“Mom, I can do it by myself!” has become a common exclamation in our household, courtesy of our seven-year-old daughter. Her most recent proclamation? That she can shower and bathe by herself. While I initially balked at this, my husband reminded me that she is seven-years-old for goodness sake, and if she feels like she is ready to try it on her own, then we should let her. But is seven really old enough for a child to bathe on his or her own?
There is an overwhelming amount of information about when to expect your baby’s first milestones: the first smile, their first words, their first steps, when they should be able to play patty cake, the list goes on and on. But what about when they are out of the baby and toddler stage? When should they be able to start doing more “grown-up” things independently? I wasn’t sure, so I decided to find out.
So, here we go. When should a child be able to…
Bathe on their own: It turns out that the answer to this question is … whenever they express the desire to do so. The average age for a child to begin bathing on their own is 8 years old, but children mature at different levels and they can be ready as early as 5 or 6 or as late as 10. The main thing for parents to be aware of is safety. Be sure to teach your child how to safely turn the water on to the appropriate heat level and how to be careful in the tub or shower so that they do not slip and fall. Once you feel that your child is able to properly bathe themselves, including washing and rinsing their hair and bathing thoroughly, and is able to do so safely, then let them go for it.
Cook: Encouraging your child to help with meal preparation is a good way to prepare them for future independency. Children as young as 4 or 5 can begin to prepare toast in the toaster with parental guidance and teaching of proper use. At the age of 6 to 7 children can begin preparing sandwiches that do not require the use of a sharp knife. 8 is a good age to allow them to begin using the microwave to heat up snacks, still with supervision. It is at the age of 10 to 11 that children are normally ready for simple stove use with tasks such as boiling pasta, scrambling eggs, and making pancakes. From age 13 onward begin teaching your child how to prepare full meals and let them cook for the family one night out of the week. At all ages, consistently emphasize the importance of safety in the kitchen and teach them proper safety procedures.
Do laundry: At ages 3 or 4 children can help with the laundry by gathering dirty clothes, helping to sort, putting clean clothes away, etc. By age 12 most children should be able to handle their own laundry, from start to finish. Allow young children to help and as they grow older encourage them to become more involved. Teach them how to use the machines and how to properly fold and hang clean clothes and once you feel they have reached the ability to do it on their own, allow them to try.
Take care of a pet: “I’ll take care of it, I promise!!!” We’ve all heard this well intentioned, but usually empty, promise at one time or another. Kids will promise anything in order to get a pet, but how old do they need to be before they can really care fulltime for a pet? They are capable of refilling food and water bowls as young as age 5, but there is much more to pet ownership than just feeding and watering. A child is usually closer to the teen years, 12 or 13, before they can truly handle all the care involved for a pet such as exercising and bathing a dog, cleaning a cat’s litter box, cleaning out a hamster or gerbil cage, etc.
Do chores: Having children help out with the household chores not only gives Mom and Dad a break, but it also teaches children valuable life lessons and encourages independence. As young as ages 3 to 4, children can put dirty clothes away, wipe up spills, and dust. At age 5 children can begin making their beds, clearing the table, and watering flowers. By age 8 children can do a myriad of chores, including sort laundry, sweep floors, set the table, rake leaves, vacuum, and keep their rooms picked up.
As a parent, it is our natural instinct to want to do everything for our child, but as they begin to express the desire to be more independent we should encourage them to begin doing things on their own. The most important thing to remember is to teach them proper safety procedures and techniques so that they stay safe while learning how to be more independent.
Has your child expressed their desire to be more independent in a certain area? Share it with me in the comments!