7 Tasks Kids Should Do for Themselves

Avoid Helicopter Tendencies

By Lauren Katulka

Our children are born helpless, completely dependent on us for food, shelter and love. As they grow, it can be tempting to continue satisfying their every whim. But this pattern can lead to “helicopter parenting,” a parenting style that can do more harm than good, says Holly Schiffrin, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.

Build Confidence

According to Schiffrin’s research, published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, over-parented teens show less autonomy, competence and relatedness to others, resulting in symptoms of depression and decreased satisfaction with life.

This parenting style, while well-intentioned, denies kids the opportunity to practice independent problem solving skills. Help build your child’s confidence by requiring him to complete these tasks for himself.

Take Responsibility for Clothes

By age 3, your child should be able to dress himself. He may need help with buttons and zippers, but these motor skills will improve in time. Give your kid a small number of weather-appropriate outfits to select from, and gradually widen the scope.

Toddlers can put their clean clothes into drawers and dirty ones into a hamper, preschoolers can match socks, and 6- to 8-year-olds can fold clothes when they’re dry. By late elementary school, kids should be capable of washing their own clothes.

Care for Toys

Resist the urge to clean up after your kid when he makes a mess in the playroom. Even 2-year-olds can put away their toys. Preschoolers should learn that they’re responsible for any items they take out of the house. Resist the urge to replace toys that are broken or lost due to carelessness; these accidents can become teaching moments.

Care for a Pet

Caring for a pet is a great way to instil responsibility in your child from an early age. You should trust a preschool-aged child to feed a pet regularly. As children have a greater risk of infection, however, they should not clean litter boxes and other pet waste until their teenage years.

Set Their Bedtime

Very young children rely on the structure of a set bedtime. But by age 12, allow your child to negotiate this. Setting restrictions, like no phone calls, Internet or TV after 9 p.m., can guide your kid in choosing an appropriate bedtime.

Eat Responsibly

Your toddler can happily feed himself, and by age 5 he should be attempting to cut up his own meals. Help him hone skills with soft foods like cooked vegetables before transitioning to more challenging meats and fruits. In early elementary school, he can complete basic tasks like washing fresh produce and chopping ingredients. After spending time with you in the kitchen, your child should have enough skill to create basic meals.

Clean the House

Your child lives in your home, so he should take some responsibility for keeping it clean. A toddler can start making beds and wiping down surfaces. With supervision, a preschooler can begin washing dishes and cleaning windows. In elementary school, add sweeping, vacuuming and mopping to your child’s list of chores.

Fight Their Battles

It can be tempting to step in when you see your child struggling, but it’s important to let him fight his own battles. When you get down to it, there’s little difference between a mother stepping in when children squabble over a favorite toy and a father speaking to a college professor about his child’s “unfair” grade. No matter the age, your child should be trusted to solve his own personal problems. You may guide the process by suggesting solutions, but you shouldn’t take control of the resolution.

Strike a Balance

Of course, it’s up to you to decide if your child is mature enough to be trusted with particular tasks. It can be difficult to judge what your child is ready for, but by following your kid’s cues and asking your child if he wants help with any unfamiliar tasks you can nudge him just enough to strike a balance between dependence and self-reliance.
Young girl mocking boy - isolated


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