Exposure to real-life work helps your child prepare for future independence.

Teaching Kids Independent Living Skills

by Melinda Kedro

Your child is likely asserting his budding independence daily. Finding ways to channel this natural tendency for self-expression and desire to master tasks on his own will help create a foundation for healthy character development. Teaching your child effective independent living skills should start at a young age and continue through adolescence.

1. Start Young

Children as young as 2 years old are capable of engaging in meaningful activities that help teach them about personal accountability. At this age, children are beginning to learn to dress themselves, feed themselves, use the toilet and accomplish other small tasks. Do what you can to include your young child in household chores and projects. Isolate simple aspects of a larger, more complex activity to encourage participation. For example, when folding laundry, have your 2- or 3-year-old find all of the socks in the pile of clean clothes.

2. Get Your Child Involved at Home

According to Dr. Adiaha Spinks-Franklin, a physician in the Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics at Texas Children's Hospital and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine, the daily tasks you assign to your child can become more complex as he grows. Spinks-Franklin says that the more you do to include your child in household activities, the higher the chance your child has at growing up into a responsible individual later in life. Children ages 4 or 5 can help prepare simple meals and set the table. They can even help wash and put dishes away. Spinks-Franklin encourages parents to begin teaching children these skills at a young age when their curiosity and eagerness to participate is at its peak. Allowing this kind of participation can also help your child develop problem-solving skills.

3. The Teenage Years

As your child matures into adolescence, opportunities to learn about independence and responsibility will extend beyond home life. The Busy Kids Happy Mom website offers suggestions for activities that will promote your teen's independence and enhance his life skills, including taking a babysitting course through a hospital, volunteering at a food bank or other charitable organization, managing money and saving through a personal bank account and participating in a real-life work experience with set hours. Participation in a group activity outside of the home such as a sport or club is another avenue for promoting accountability and teaching valuable social skills necessary for a successful adult life.

4. Transition Into Adulthood

Providing your child with opportunities to practice his sense of responsibility and develop useful life skills will create the foundation for a healthy transition into adulthood, Whether your teen chooses to attend college, pursue a career directly out of high school or follow a less traditional route through volunteer work or world travel, you can feel confident in his ability to manage his life choices because of the consistent challenges you offered throughout his upbringing. According to the Busy Kids Happy Mom website, a 16- to 18-year-old should be able to fill out a job application, prepare a resume, pass a driver's test, plan, shop for and prepare a complete meal, understand how debit and credit cards work, have a bank account and balance a checkbook. These essential skills will allow your child to navigate the larger world successfully.

About the Author

With more than 10 years experience in early childhood education, Melinda Kedro holds a Masters degree in education, teaching certification through the Association Montessori Internationale and is a licensed childcare provider through the Colorado Department of Human Services.

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