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Baylor College of Medicine News

Teaching preschoolers independent living skills shapes responsibility

Don't leave young children out of the back-to-school preparations – get a head start on giving them responsibilities that will teach them important skills for the future, said a developmental pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine.

"Teaching simple independent living skills at a young age can help a child learn how to take care of themselves on their own," said Dr. Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, assistant professor of pediatrics at BCM and a physician in the Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics at Texas Children's Hospital. "Many parents do not realize that there are simple chores young children are capable of completing."

As the child grows older, he or she can accomplish bigger tasks, ultimately paving the way for a responsible self-sustaining adulthood, she said.

Some of the skills parents can help their children learn and at what age include:

Age 2

"Generally at age 2, a parent can show their child how to clean up," said Spinks-Franklin.

If a child drops a piece of paper, show them how to pick it up and put it in the trash, she said. When they play, have them put their toys away with adult assistance so that next time, the child can do it themselves.

"This is a very simple way to teach the child responsibility," she said. "From an early age, the child should learn age-appropriate responsibility for action. If you play, you clean up after yourself."

Age 3

Many parents also do not realize that at age 3, a child can help with laundry, Spinks-Franklin said.

"They can help put away laundry and eventually learn how to match socks," said Spinks-Franklin. "Again, the key word is keeping the chore simple."

Age 4

At four years, a child is perfectly capable of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pouring their own bowl of cereal and even using the toaster, Spinks-Franklin said. "With adult supervision, these are perfectly appropriate tasks to give your child."

Also, let them pick out their clothes, she said. "A parent may need to help button or zip clothes and tie shoes but give the child some responsibility in the dressing process."

Other skills they can learn include bathing, brushing their teeth and helping clean up their room. A 4-year-old can even help sort laundry by colors—whites versus darks.

Age 5

At age 5, when the child is approaching elementary school, they can help set the table.

"Now this does not mean they can carry around the fine china," said Spinks-Franklin. "But a parent can show them where the silverware goes on the table, for example, or how to sort the silverware in the drawer."

Importance of teaching both boys and girls

Spinks-Franklin emphasized the importance of teaching these skills to both boys and girls versus reserving the household chores for girls. "Remember, these will build responsibility across the board.

"If a parent does not start teaching these skills at a young age, and perhaps waits until adolescence, the child may resist," said Spinks-Franklin. "The child should be able to start helping wash and dry dishes at age 8, sweep the floor and clean their rooms by 9, and by middle school iron their clothes and clean the bathroom."

Allowing to problem solve

Lastly, it is important for a child to learn how to problem solve, think critically and learn from their own mistakes, said Spinks-Franklin. "This can be taught at an early age as well," she said. "For example, if you are telling them not to jump on the couch, and they continue to jump anyway and fall, try not to rush to rescue them if they are not seriously hurt. The child will learn that they can fall if they jump from the couch. If later in middle school, the child does not complete their homework assignment and gets a zero on the assignment, do not make excuses for them. Step back and let them learn from the consequences of their actions. Our goal is for our children to grow into healthy, independent, responsible adults."