Girl smilingI work as an occupational therapist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Fox Valley specialty clinic. I also have a Montessori preschool teaching background. One thing I’m passionate about is sharing the benefits of having kids learn to do things for themselves.

As adults we often don’t think about all the things kids can do themselves. Even at very young ages — as soon as kids are able to walk, grab and move — there are things kids can do themselves with positive developmental benefits.

Self-help activities: What’s in it for kids?

Think about it. When kids have to do something like try to get their own shirt off, they have to go from a passive to an active thinking mode. They have to figure out how to get the shirt off, where to start, how much to pull. It takes body awareness. Where are my arms? How big is my head? It provides experience in the physics of making something move. It takes strength of the hands and arms — especially to pull off long sleeves. It takes being able to maintain an upright position. In the end, kids get a sense of accomplishment, enhanced self-esteem and greater control over their environment.

Too rushed to have your child help with dressing or undressing? Try having them carry their bowls or plates to and from the table, help open different containers, get clothing or diapers out of drawers, help clean a table or water the plants. One essential piece of equipment for anyone with young children at home is a plastic stool to help them reach the faucets on the sink in the bathroom or counter. Having a cupboard or drawer in the kitchen children can access or a low shelf for toys also can help your children begin to do more on their own.

Age matters

Older children can begin learning to fix themselves a simple snack (around 4 years of age), prepare a sandwich (by age 5), spread and cut with a table knife (age 6) and wash/bathe without help (by age 7).

By the time they are teens, kids should have lots of opportunities for independence and to make decisions (with adults to guide and mentor them). This helps them gain the self-sufficiency they need to leave our home.

Take a step back

Let your children go forth to do it themselves, explore and be all they can be. It might be a bit messy, a bit different from your way of doing things, but in the end it will be worth it.

Parents, post a comment and share how you are helping your kids do more on their own. I look forward to hearing from you!

Kathleen Hallett, OTR– Kathleen Hallett, OTR, pediatric occupational therapist, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin

Kathleen works as an occupational therapist at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin’s Fox Valley specialty clinic. She also has a Montessori preschool teaching background.

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