With parents and children staying-in-place at home, there’s never been a better time to teach life skills. Working together as a family has many benefits, including:
- Building family unity
- Reducing children’s anxiety
- Boosting children’s confidence and self-esteem
- Developing resilience and self-sufficiency
Being actively involved in family life is good for children. It builds household community and we all feel better when we’re making a positive contribution.
Tips for Encouraging Independence in Children
- Break skills down into small, incremental steps.
- Make sure your child has mastered one thing before moving on to the next level.
- Don’t expect perfection. Offer repeated instruction when needed.
- Slowly allow more and more freedom and responsibility as your child is ready.
- Consider your child’s temperament, maturity, strengths, and needs, as well as your family’s individual circumstances.
Teach skills in small steps. Think about the skills your child needs to gain and where your child is now. Your job as a parent is to break tasks down into small, sequential steps, allowing for slow, steady growth.
For example, you wouldn’t ask your 4-year-old to clean the kitchen by herself. Instead, she would probably learn to take her dish to the kitchen after a meal first. As she gets older, you show her how to rinse the dish and put it in the dishwasher. By the time most children are in early elementary school, they can unload one part of the dishwasher – usually the silverware bin (be sure to remove any sharp utensils first). In another year or so, they’re ready to unload the top or bottom compartment and then the entire dishwasher. From there, they can learn to load the dishwasher, start it, and wipe the counters.
This technique can be used for a variety of situations. A 3-year-old can help sort laundry. A 5-year-old can put folded laundry away in drawers. By the age of 9 or 10, most children can learn to fold laundry. And by early adolescence, children can do their laundry by themselves. Preschoolers can wash fruit, open yogurt, or spread cream cheese on bread. Older children might be able to learn to use a microwave and make simple snacks and meals.
Consider your personal circumstances. As parents, it’s natural to take note of what other people’s children are doing at any given age. These observations can give us perspective and offer a starting point for understanding norms and milestones. However, they don’t take the place of thoughtfully analyzing our own situation. Keep in mind that each child is unique in their development and interests, so resist the urge to make hard comparisons to others. Embrace what your child can do, and build from there.
Some children mature more quickly than others, displaying attention, willingness to follow directions, and an ability to make sound decisions at an early age. Others need more time to mature and more support along the way. You may even find yourself allowing one of your children more independence than another simply because of a difference in readiness.
Age-Appropriate Chores to Teach Independence
The list below provides some general age guidelines for when most children are ready for certain tasks. Keep in mind that all children will need teaching and support initially. Some children might be ready for these tasks earlier or later than indicated.
2 to 5 Years Old
- Put clothes in hamper
- Put toys in toy box
- Sort laundry, find pairs of socks
- Dress self
5 to 9 Years Old
- Begin to load/unload dishwasher
- Put laundry away
- Help care for pets
- Personal hygiene
- Make bed
- Make a simple snack
9 to 12 Years Old
- Take responsibility for homework
- Clean room
- Fold laundry
- Help make meals
As parents, we tend to fall to one extreme or the other: giving too much freedom too soon, or restricting our child’s growth for too long. Letting the reins out gradually gives children the independence they need while allowing you to teach skills and assess your child’s readiness.
Webinar: Your World at Home: “I Can Do It!”
Watch our webinar, Boosting Your Child’s Resilience & Independence, to learn how simple, everyday experiences — like letting your child teach you something or getting involved in your child’s play — can cultivate resilience, grit, independence, and perseverance.
More on Teaching Responsibilities and Independence to Children
- How your parenting style can impact your child’s independence
- Get tips from our Mom Bloggers on activities to encourage independence in preschoolers
- When should chores be rewarded with an allowance?
- Can chores encourage positive behavior