For the first several years of your child’s life, you (as a parent) will be doing a lot of things for them. This extensive list includes feeding them, getting them dressed, changing their diapers, carrying them from one place to another, bathing them, and cleaning up their messes, among others.
There will come a point, however, when they can start mastering these skills for themselves. Gaining this independence requires practice on their part and opportunity on yours. This means not always doing everything for your child. They have to get some hands-on experience to develop these skills.
So when is it appropriate to expect your child to do different things on their own? Well, all kids are different. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use average ages. For questions regarding your child’s development, you should always consult your pediatrician.
- Eating with Utensils
This comes down to how you define “utensil”. If we are talking self-feeding, this can start as soon as your little is allowed to have more solid foods (around 8 months). Of course, this means using their hands as utensils. After they hit the one year mark, they typically have the dexterity and desire to start holding a spoon. Most kids can get the hang of the mechanics of a fork or spoon starting around 18 months. Now, getting all their food from plate to mouth, that may take a few years before they really get good at it.
- Brushing teeth
Most dentists recommend starting a good oral hygiene routine as soon as possible. There are plenty of “practice” brushes that your little one can chew on as soon as they can grasp it. You should start cleaning your baby’s teeth as soon as they appear (with a soft cloth). Sometime during 1-2 years of age, let your child start “brushing” their teeth with a soft tip brush. You should always brush their teeth after they attempt to since they aren’t thorough enough to properly clean all the enamel surfaces. Talk to your child’s dentist about the best approach to fluoride: some may encourage it topically, while others prefer oral tablets. Although between the ages of six and nine kids will be able to brush their teeth on their own, parents will still need to actively inspect their child’s teeth for cleanliness on a regular basis.
- Washing hands
As soon as your little one can reach the sink (and maybe sooner with some help) you can introduce them to hand washing. During potty training, most kids will getlots of hand washing practice time. By the time they are about 3 years old, they should be able to do a decent job washing their own hands.
- Taking clothes off
Your child’s ability to undress themselves is directly related to the simplicity of their outfit. Socks are pretty easy as are simple shirts and leggings or sweatpants. Taking clothes off requires less coordination that putting them on. Around 20 months, many children are able to undress themselves with minimal help. Of note, it’s necessary to master this skill before potty training can be effective.
- Putting clothes on
Many children start attempting to dress themselves around 2.5-3 years old. By around age 4, they should be able to get dressed on their own. It may take a bit longer to get the hand of more sophisticated skills like buttons and zippers (around 5 years old).
Similar to clothing, the complexity of the shoes your child is wearing dictates when they will be able to put them on by themselves. Thankfully, there are a variety of options when it comes to shoes for toddlers and preschoolers. Slip-ons or rainboots are the easiest to try on their own and can start as soon as 2 years old. Velcro straps are a good option but it will probably be a year or more before they can properly fasten those on their own.
Tying their shoelaces is probably the trickiest shoe skills and it may not happen until they are in elementary school (5 or 6 years old).
It’s important to note here that no child under 6 years old should be left unattended in the bath. They should not even be alone in the bathroom if there is water in the tub as it is considered a drowning hazard. Until the age of 4 or so, most kids will need help properly cleaning themselves, especially their hair and their back. There is no strict cutoff on how old your child should be when you leave them to bathe on their own. Some start as early as 6 or 7 years old while others wait until 8 or 9 years old. It is specific to each child. The decision should weigh the parents’ comfort level and the desires of the child for independence/privacy.