How to get kids to do things for themselves

Babies are naturally dependent on others, to the point that, if left alone for long periods, they cannot survive. Toddlers and young children are also highly dependent on adults – they lack the knowledge, strength and understanding necessary to take care of themselves. As they get older, young children do acquire skills and knowledge that enable them to survive on their own – they can find food, water and shelter, even in a rural environment. However, regardless of their environment, allowing a child to do so would be extremely irresponsible and neglectful. In a modern household, a young child may well have observed how to cook a basic meal, wash and iron clothes, light a fire and so on. This doesn’t mean that it is safe for them to do so.

As a child gets older it is difficult to determine what tasks they are and are not capable of taking on themselves. There is a degree of risk in everything, especially when doing something for the first time. Something as simple as making a sandwich could result in an accident with a knife, a broken plate, clothes which need to be cleaned, a floor which needs to be mopped and so on. Many parents choose to be on the safe side and do these jobs themselves. As a result of this, there are large numbers of teenagers who have never washed or ironed their own clothes, who don’t know how to prepare a meal or to change a washer.

This is, however, not only due to overly cautious parents. There is a tendency among working parents to take the easy way out when dealing with their kids after a full day at work. Rather than spending time with them, teaching, training and supervising them, it is much easier to let them sit in front of a TV or a games console the entire day, and serve them up microwaved meals, throw their dirty clothes in the wash and go to sit in front of a different TV with a glass of wine. Kids raised by these parents will be severely lacking in basic survival skills when they leave home or go to college. This can cause such additional stress that makes it more likely that they will quit their studies, their first job, or even get fired.

The key to raising kids that will be able to take care of themselves when they leave home is to spend time with them, teaching and supervising. Show your child how to do a task. Talk them through it. Show them again and ask them to talk you through it. Next time, let them take on some parts of the task while you supervise them. When they are ready to perform the task themselves, continue to supervise them until they have mastered it. If you have even younger children, you can have the older child teach their younger sibling in the same way.

The number of things that your kids should be doing for themselves may surprise you. You may, in fact prefer to ‘show your love’ for them by doing these things for them anyway. This is not called ‘spoiling’ them for nothing – your actions are actually having a negative effect on the child.

Younger kids are capable of feeding, washing and dressing themselves. Older kids can tidy up, clean and help around the house. You may often be surprised what can motivate kids to do chores. Helping to cook dinner might not sound so attractive, but if it means they get a chance to use your new blender from Blender Friend, you might find them volunteering to help every day. You may want to encourage your child to learn the value of money – completing chores in order to receive an allowance. If you decide to go down this route, be sure to avoid paying by the hour – a smart kid will simply work as slowly as possible – plus, you are effectively teaching them wage slavery. Paying for completed tasks teaches them to be efficient and innovative in their attitude to work.

If your kids are sitting in front of a screen all day, it’s time you actually started looking out for their interests. Don’t simply write them off as ‘lazy’ or ‘badly-behaved’ – they are almost certainly unaware of the opportunities they are missing out on.