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5 Ways to Encourage Self-Sufficiency in Young Kids

young girl learning to tie her shoes
Piyada Jaiaree/Shutterstock

There’s no reason to do everything for your kids. In fact, not doing things for them is how you encourage them to become self-sufficient. Here are five ways to promote self-sufficiency in your children.

There’s no reason to run around doing absolutely everything for your children. Even if they complain they can’t do certain things, the truth is they probably can. You might be surprised by how self-sufficient your child can be, even if you have to nudge them in the right direction. And believe us, the sooner and more firmly you nudge them the easier life is for everyone.

Avoid Doing Everything for Them

It’s fairly simple— to stop your kids from relying on you for every need, you need to take a step back and let them fend for themselves. But how do you do it? First, you need to look for key opportunities to foster self-sufficiency.

We’re often so rushed in our day-to-day lives that we don’t realize how much our kids can do on their own. We get caught in auto-pilot, quickly clearing all the plates after dinner when in fact a young toddler is capable of putting his plate in the sink or dishwasher.

Try to pick a few things for your child to do, then sit back and let them do it. Here are a few examples:

  • Clearing away dishes: Use plastic ware if you’re afraid of breakage.
  • Putting clothes in the hamper: Have an open hamper to make it easier.
  • Brushing teeth: If you’re worried about her missing a spot, give her a minute on her own, then do a touch-up at the end.
  • Packing a lunch box: Have easy to pack items, such as granola bars, yogurt cups, bananas, etc.
  • Cleaning up toys: Get big bins and toy boxes, making it easy to scoop and store away.
  • Sweeping: Get a small broom if your child can’t hold a full-sized one.

Need more ideas? We’ve got a list of chores you should start delegating to your child right here.

Allow Enough Time for Practice

One reason parents step in and help out is that it’s usually faster that way. For example, if you’re rushing out the door, it’s often easier to say, “Here, let me put on your shoes” because it’ll probably take twice as long (or longer!) for your child to do it on her own.

However, if you can carve out a little extra time, it’s better to let your child figure it out on her own. Take some deep breaths, cultivate extra patience, and let her at it. Even if she says she can’t do it, give her time and space to try first before swooping in to help out.

This is a perfect place to practice time management skills too. They can’t get ready and out the door as fast as you can, so tell them in advance it’s almost time to leave and encourage them to go get their shoes on.

Stick with this routine for putting on and taking off jackets, carrying backpacks to and from the car, taking off shoes, getting dressed, filling and emptying a lunch box—the list goes on.

Be Prepared for Mistakes

It’s essential to avoid the quest for perfection. Many parents won’t let their children touch the laundry in fear that it’ll be folded wrong or end up wrinkled. But really, it doesn’t matter if a kid’s T-shirt is a little wrinkled (they surely won’t care). Let them practice folding and putting away their clothes. If all the undies end up in the sock drawer, it’s okay. Give them the space to make mistakes.

boy vacuuming his room
Pakula Piotr/Shutterstock

Go ahead and offer praise, even if the job didn’t go quite as expected. You can say, “Great job at sweeping,” even if they missed a lot. You want to focus on their ability to do things on their own, not whether the job is done to your high standard. Trust us; you can push for higher expectations when they get older.

A Little Prep Work Goes a Long Way

You don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach with chores and self-sufficiency. For example, if you’ve been packing your child’s lunch, it may be too much to hand off this entire chore to him, especially if he’s a toddler.

Instead, do some prep work first, such as setting out the items he can choose from, slicing the bread, opening Tupperware containers, and so on. Then bring him to the table and let him choose from the items you’ve set out. You can help him along the way if needed. If there are certain items he wants more of, have him help you write out a grocery list, sticking it on the fridge for the next shopping trip (and overtime he can learn to add to the list on his own).

Young kids can even help with laundry. You can have them stand on a stool, load the washing machine, and you can add the detergent. This team-effort approach is a great way to get them started with more challenging chores, eventually backing off as they get older and more capable.

Set Them Up For Success

Think about the things you want your child to learn to do by himself, and then figure out what to do to make it easier. Here are a few examples.

  • Getting dressed: If you want your child to dress herself, don’t set out an outfit with complicated buttons or tricky buckles. Try loose shorts and a T-shirt first.
  • Putting on shoes: Start with something easy to slip on, with velcro straps. Don’t jump right to tying laces if he’s never put on shoes by himself.
  • Helping with dishes: If you use plastic ware and have easily accessible cabinets, your child can help with loading, unloading, and putting away dishes—when our Editor in Chief Jason’s daughter was young, he dedicated a drawer just to her plates and cups so she could load and unload it herself. Just make sure to monitor this chore, removing any sharp utensils first.
  • Taking out the trash: Give your child a small trash bag, having a step stool for her to climb on to toss it in.

Basically, you want to take bigger chores and make them easier to manage. Take a look at all the chores you do and ask yourself, “Is there a bite-sized chunk I can hand off to my child?” Don’t forget to supervise them with any new chore, making sure to encourage them along the way. And over time, they’ll become more confident with their ability to manage things on their own.

Handing over chores, tasks, and self-care needs to your children is one of the best things you can do for them (and yourself!). The sooner they incorporate self-sufficiency into their daily lives, the better. You want it to become a natural part of their routine. And over time, you’ll be surprised at how much they can do.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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