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On Encouraging Self Sufficiency in Children

The 4 Moms of 35+ Kids are discussing self sufficiency in children.

A reader question prompted the topic of this post, "What do you do for your children and what do they do for themselves? Baths, cleaning, clothes maintenance, etc."

My policy is to allow and encourage children to do any and all things they are physically capable of.

A good example of this is getting a drink of water. I keep our plastic kid cups in an easily accessible drawer, so even our 2 year old can get a cup out all by herself. She can reach the in-door water dispenser in the fridge and knows how to get herself a drink.

Occasionally, she asks me to get water for her, but I remind her that she is a big girl and can get her own water.

Once I am positive a child is fully capable of doing a thing, like getting a drink, I put that responsibility on them from that point on.

My 8 year old knows how to operate the washing machine and dryer and has a specific day of the week to do her own laundry, as do all of her older siblings.

She may not always want to do her laundry, but I know that she is capable of it, so the task belongs to her now.

I believe I am training my children to be more and more self sufficient as they get older, and also instilling in them confidence in their capabilities.

I do not need to give them a gold star or a smiley face on a progress report because they have tangible evidence that they can do important things. A cup of water to drink, gotten without aid, and a basket of clean, fresh smelling laundry are rewards they have earned and reaped themselves.

Of course, if I want a task done to certain specifications, like a bath using soap, or clothes put away and drawers closed, I monitor to make sure it is done properly.

Here are the ages I expect my children to do certain things on their own:

2 Years Old

4 Years Old

  • Buckle car seat.
  • Wash and rinse self in bath.
  • Brush teeth.
  • Get dressed.
  • Put away clothes.
  • Wipe bottom after pottying.
  • Take dishes to sink after eating.

6 Years Old

  • Bathe and wash hair.
  • Open and close van door.
  • Make a sandwich.
  • Read directions.
  • Fold clothes.
  • Set the table.

8 Years Old

  • Do laundry.
  • Read Bible.
  • Change sheets.
  • Vacuum room.
  • Make scrambled eggs.
  • Take out trash.

10 Years Old

Each age comes with new personal responsibilities in addition to those they were already doing in earlier years. These may not be the same standards you set in your family, but it works well for us.

By encouraging self sufficiency in our children, we are training them up to be responsible, self sufficient adults, and along the way giving them a positive self image which comes from trying hard to achieve a task.

Now, be sure to check out what the rest of my 4 Mom team expect their children to do on their own.

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  1. Any tips on getting little children to get their shoes on the correct feet? My three year old has been capable of getting his shoes on for sometime but putting the right shoe on the right foot is another matter.

  2. Thanks Connie! Great post. Our 3 year old is doing a few things, but I think I need to encourage her to do more – I know she can…I’ve just not been asking her to do more.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    In our house, the under fives (2and 4) help empty the dishwasher and wih laundry in addition to things theyre learning to doo themselves. I actually had a discussion with my 10 year old this morning about independence…namely why I don’t pack her a snack and drink for school. The answer to that question is that if she really wants one she’s old enough to remember to get it herself (fifth grade).

  4. Avery (20 months) is now expected to pick up her toys when told and take them to her play room, pick up trash and take it to the trash can (including her diapers), brush her teeth (with monitoring), wash herself in the bath, wash and dry her hands (we still have to pick her up but everything else she does without help) and help pick her clothes to wear. We prefer to let her try to do a task first, then if she needs help to tell us and we will help her. We want her to know that you don’t always succeed on the first time and it is okay to ask for help, but to learn anything new you must first put forth the effort to learn. As soon as she can complete the task we let her keep doing it on her own just with monitoring. That is her reward! Considering she put her shoes on yesterday by herself and got them on the correct feet, we will now be encouraging her to do that for herself and just monitor to make sure her shoes are on correctly.

    Love this, Connie!

  5. April Wright says:

    People are surprised when they see what our bigger kids are expected to do. The challenge for me is having the same expectations for our little ones, as our bigger kids. They seem so much younger that I end up helping our 4 year old way to much. Thanks for the gentle nudge and reminder what little ones are capable of.

  6. This is really good, Connie. Although we’ve had all of our kids doing jobs since they were 1-2 years old (starts w/ putting their own diaper in the trash and picking up toys), sometimes I wonder how self-sufficient they are. In other words, would they take these tasks on themselves or are they just doing what they’re told? Hmmm…would appreciate your insight on this! (we have 8 kids ages 1-15)

    Also, I always try to assign a job to the youngest child that can handle it, but sometimes I still have to purposely have an older child do that job again just so they don’t forget how! Case in point: I asked our 10yo to get the dishwasher started when we were in a hurry getting ready for company and he didn’t know how since it’d been so many years since it had been his job! :)

  7. I LOVE that tip for getting shoes on the correct feet!