With the right guidance an exuberant toddler who declares “I did it all by myself” can grow into a self-sufficient preteen who can handle household tasks and everyday activities with healthy self-esteem. The key is starting early and practicing the skills.
“Repetition is an important element of learning. Teaching responsibilities and social manners takes time,” said Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, director of Parentchildhelp.com and author of “Raising Your Spirited Child.”
Children as young as 2 can help around the house and often are excited to be a contributing member of the family, said Sheedy Kurcinka, whose new book, “Raising Your Spirited Baby,” will be available in December.
“Asking kids to help provides an opportunity for them to contribute and learn valuable life lessons that will be part of their lives,” she said. “It helps children build a sense of worthiness and confidence.”
Kids want to help
Asking a child to set the dinner table or clean a room may take longer than doing it yourself.
“It may not be as efficient, especially if you’re in a rush. You may have to follow up and correct mistakes, but in the long term it is more efficient and these tasks can be a point of connection,” Sheedy Kurcinka said.
As children become competent, these skills can become part of their routine.
“Never underestimate the ability of young children. They are much more capable than you may imagine,” she said.
Between ages 2 and 5 is a window of opportunity where children “want to participate with you and find joy in it,” Sheedy Kurcinka said.
It’s never too late to start, though.
“From a home standpoint, as a parent I would expect my child to be able to set the table and clear it all on their own by age 10,” said Mélanie Berliet, general manager of lifestyle site The Spruce. “My daughter is almost 3 and it’s really important to me that she clears her own plate, bowl, spoon and fork after a meal. She knows exactly where the sink is, and she has two legs of her own, I like to remind her. Together, we unload the dishwasher (cautiously) each morning.
“By 10, it’s reasonable to expect your daughter or son to set a basic table without any parental guidance and also clear the table (without prompting, ideally!) on their own.”
By age 10
“There are a lot of skills that you can work on with your kids right now that they can and should master by age 10,” said Heather Ramsdell, editorial director of The Spruce.
Here’s Ramsdell’s list: make the bed, pack an overnight bag, write and mail a letter, find the way home from school, throw a football, ride a bike, properly apologize, change a battery in household items, count to 10, say please and thank you in two languages, and say “no” in a way that signals they really mean it.
By age 10 children are gaining their independence, and most kids should be able to:
• Speak to adults: When a server asks what they would like to eat or a dentist asks how a tooth is feeling, give a child the opportunity to answer. “Don’t jump in. Give them a moment to respond,” Sheedy Kurcinka said.
• Remember their manners: Encourage children to look adults in the eye and speak clearly and not mumble. “Coach the pause,” Sheedy Kurcinka said. Remind them to say “please” and “thank you.”
• Know the details: In the age of cellphones it takes a bit of effort to remember phone numbers, but kids should know important numbers by heart, parents’ full names and addresses, emergency phone numbers and whom to contact in an emergency.
• In the kitchen: “Specifically, this is an age that kids can start to really contribute, from cleaning the dishes to cooking a few dishes like eggs, rice, oatmeal, pasta, or properly cutting an onion,” Ramsdell said. “Mastering those culinary skills by age 10 can set them up for future success and even enjoyment in the kitchen.”
• In an emergency: A child’s life is filled with small emergencies. When a skinned knee starts to bleed, they should know to stay calm, wash their hands, then wash the wound with cool running water to remove dirt, pat dry with a clean cloth, apply antibiotic and bandage.
• Think of others: Children are part of the community, too. One way to share an awareness of others is to encourage them to donate clothes and toys they have outgrown. If a neighbor is sick, let them help prepare and deliver a meal. Consider volunteering opportunities either organized or on their own, such as mowing grass for an elderly neighbor.