Age Appropriate Skills for Children

Here’s a little article that I wrote for my school’s Alumi Newsletter.

Did you know that your five year old is capable of taking out the garbage or sweeping the floor, your seven year old can help change the sheets on the bed or put dishes in the dishwasher, your twelve year old can cook meals for the family or do his own laundry, and your teenager can purchase her own clothes with a budgeted clothing allowance or do heavier yard work.

Many children are denied the opportunity to contribute to their families and communities in such valuable ways. They aren’t given a chance to learn essential skills for caring for themselves and others. Well-intentioned adults do things for children that they are capable of doing for themselves. As a result, the children learn to under-function, displaying trained helplessness and learned incompetence.

In a parenting group we explored age appropriate skills that kids are capable of doing for themselves. Many parents felt the a-ha that their child was capable of taking on some new responsibilities at home. Addressing this change with their child also gave them an opportunity to apologize to their child and admit that they had made a mistake. Children love to hear when adults make mistakes. In addition, modeling making mistakes is a powerful way to help address a child’s perfectionistic tendencies.

Below is one parent’s account of how she surprised her son with an apology and gave him an opportunity to feel empowered and begin taking control of one aspect of his life.

“I had still been picking out clothes for my 8-year-old son every morning. I had tried over the last few years to get him to pick his own clothes (“just pick something – what’s the big deal – it’s just a shirt and pants – your little sister has been picking her own clothes since she was 3…”) but he always acted like it was an overwhelming task and he had no idea what to pick. It made the morning go more smoothly if I just pulled out the clothes for him. After a few parenting classes, I told him that I had learned how much kids can do at different ages. Then I told him that I owed him an apology. He straightened up, taken aback, looking very happily interested in this unusual conversation. I told him that I knew that he was capable of picking out his own clothes and had been for many years, but that I had not been giving him the chance to do this for himself, and that this wasn’t fair to him. He looked honored. The first day after this little talk, I came by and asked him if he had an idea of what he might pick to wear that day. He told me what he was thinking and I said that it sounded like a good choice. Since then, he’s just shown up at breakfast, dressed, without any fuss.”

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