12 Things You Need to Let Your Kids Do On Their Own
Every parent wants to make life as easy as possible for their child. Life is hard enough when you're a kid, right? Though tempting, child development experts urge parents to let their children take on age-appropriate activities independently as soon as possible. Read on to learn the tasks at the top of the list.
Take care of pets
The responsibilities accompanying owning a family pet should be equally shared with all members of the family. Laura J. Colker Ed.D, early childhood curriculum developer and consultant, recommends that parents supervise interactions between pets and children, but encourages parents to allow their younger children to provide necessities like food and water for the animals in the family. Dr. Colker says that allowing children to share this responsibility assists in the child’s development of empathy, nurturing. Mommy blogger Anna Jordan says of letting her child share this responsibility, “My son loves to help with our dog. At five and a half, he’s completely capable of letting the dog out each morning and getting her food and water. He loves the sense of responsibility and is so proud of himself in his ability to care for a pet. (He also picks up poop in the yard because…Let’s face it…Five-year-old boys will jump at the chance to talk about poop).” Older kids can help walk the dog during daylight hours. On the fence about adopting a pup? Here are seven reasons big dogs are good for kids.
Help with siblings
For parents in the thick of raising young children, this one might be something you’ve naturally fallen into the habit of, out of pure necessity. Toddlers might experience jealousy when a new sibling joins the family, but allowing your older child a role in the process can go a long way to help. Katie Blackburn, blogger at justenoughbrave.com, admits, “I have my four-year-old help out with simple tasks for her little brothers. She is perfectly capable of grabbing mommy a diaper or more wipes when my hands are tied with a little one, and when I praise her for her help, and thank her for showing her little brothers what it looks like to listen and do kind things for one another, she beams.”
Folding laundry is a task that most parents don’t look forward to (or hardly get around to, by choice). Your most tedious task, according to Dr. Colker, is actually full of helpful components for your child’s development. She recommends that young children take part in matching socks, as this not only incorporates math, but identifying colors and shapes as well. Now you have a perfectly good reason to set aside those mismatched socks for your little ones! Older children can help fold laundry and put their own clothes away. (Just make sure to avoid these laundry mistakes that could ruin your clothes.)
Help with meals
While your small children might not be serving you a three-course meal on their own anytime soon (and definitely can’t use the stove, even with supervision), they can certainly begin the process of getting comfortable in the kitchen. Dr. Colker recommends that even the youngest children in this age group are allowed to take part in meal preparation, using non-electric appliances and safe utensils only, of course. Beginning around age three or four, children can begin to measure ingredients, use their hands to peel food, and use a wooden spoons or rubber spatulas to stir foods. While having a toddler may increase your clean up time (you’re nearly guaranteed a bigger mess when they “help”), it provides kids with hands on learning experiences incorporating math (measuring amounts and estimating), science (learning which foods are healthy and how they are grown), and language and literacy (identifying words found in recipes and matching them with the corresponding foods). A good place to start—these no-cook, no-fuss, no-bake recipes.
While your children might not be excited about the idea of helping out around the house, Lawrence Balter, PhD, professor emeritus of applied psychology at New York University, and author of Child Psychology: A Handbook of Contemporary Issues, says that including them in the tasks that keep a home running is beneficial to their development from an early age. “Chores need to be done together while the child is young and still requires the training, practice, and supervision. Gradually, chores should be built into the calendar and made a routine part of the child’s daily activities so continual nagging is not required,” Dr. Balter explained. He recommends that children be responsible for activities such as cleaning up toys and making their own beds. Helping in the home engenders a spirit of cooperation within the family and encourages self-sufficiency. In fact, giving kids chores is one of the things parents of successful kids have in common.
Dr. Balter lists this as one of the many activities children can help with, explaining that it provides children with the opportunity to learn a practical skill. For example, prior to a trip to the supermarket, your child can help you make your list and check items off as they are added to the cart. To extend the learning experience, discuss your budget with your child before you begin shopping, and have your child either calculate the total, or make estimations of the total amount as you go. This incorporates important math and reasoning skills that all children must have as they become independent. Here’s how to save big bucks when grocery shopping.
For every child added to a family, it can seem as though twice as much dirty laundry is generated for each person—luckily, laundry is a skill that child development experts recommend again and again! Sonya Spillman, blogger at spillingover.com, says that her children help with varied tasks around the house. “My 10-year-old daughter does a few loads of laundry (from hamper to folded in a basket) as well as cleaning out her hamster’s cage every week. My eight-year-old son unloads the dishwasher most days and both kids trade off cleaning a bathroom and vacuuming on the weekend. My four year old loves to make his own PB&J sandwiches for lunch, and although it’s messy and takes forever, he loves being independent and ‘helping’ me make lunch.” Have your child read seven ways not to ruin your laundry before you set them loose.
Choose their own clothing
Although your child’s decision to wear polka dots with stripes might cross your eyes and provoke a heavy sigh, allowing your child to choose what she wears is one way to encourage independence as well as wise choices. If you have doubts about your child’s ability to choose something other than a bathing suit in the middle of a snow storm, simply provide your child with two to three options that you’ve pre-approved. Giving your child a say in how they present themselves to the world (within reason, of course) communicates your trust and appreciation of their individuality.
Open a bank account
A child can never learn the value of a dollar too soon, and according to Barbara Greenberg, PhD, a clinical psychologist known for her national television appearances focusing on the mental health of adolescents and teens, it is important to start early by having a child open a bank account. “Take your tween or teen to the bank and open a savings account,” Dr. Greenberg says. “Then, help them figure out how much money to save and how much to budget for necessary weekly activities. Teach them to save for important items that they may want to buy for themselves.” Dr. Greenberg explains, “Items that teens buy for themselves and with their own money are often highly cherished and well taken care of because the kids know how hard they worked to save for these items. This will certainly foster a sense of accomplishment and independence.”
Order a takeout pizza
Your teenager may love to text her friends, but can your teen use his phone to actually talk? Dr. Greenberg brought up an alarming trend among young people today, explaining, “I have noticed that many teenagers and those a bit younger have a phone phobia. We still need to use the phone in life.” She recommends giving your child a task that can only be completed with a phone call. “Have your kids practice using the phone so that they get comfortable setting up their own appointments and even ordering take-out food.”
Get a job
Adolescents and teenagers want to be seen as independent individuals. In order to ensure they one day are actually independent, Dr. Greenberg recommends they start earning money as teens or tweens. “Working teaches kids about money management, helps them develop a work ethic, and they also learn to become a team player,” she says. “These are all excellent skills that contribute to becoming more independent. And, jobs make kids feel important and necessary.” Tweens can work as a mother’s helper or dog walker, while older teens could work 10 or so hours a week in a grocery retail store, she suggests. However, Dr. Greenberg is quick to warn of too much of a good thing when it comes to teens and work, cautioning, “You certainly don’t want your teens to work too many hours because their primary tasks at this point in their lives are focusing on school-related activities and social relationships.”
Problem solve for themselves
As a parent, you’re used to stepping in to protect your child from negative experiences, and you’ve done it since they were born. You’ve caught them before their bike tipped over, warned them not to run with their shoes untied, and held their hand when crossing the street. If your child is now an adolescent or teenager, it’s time to include him or her in the problem solving. Dr. Greenberg says this is a difficult but necessary part of nurturing independence. “Kids who are encouraged to problem-solve solutions to life’s problems tend to become more effective at dealing with the daily snags that we all encounter,” she explains. “This makes them feel effective, confident and independent.” After all, hearing that you raised independent children is one of the best compliments a parent can receive.