How To Encourage Self Help Skills in Children

How To Encourage Self Help Skills in Children

(This topic was featured on The Rhode Show! Click here to watch the episode.)

It’s time to encourage our children to become more independent with their daily living skills.  It’s certainly a normal and healthy part of a child’s development.  And supporting this independence can certainly make life easier, happier and typically run smoother on a daily basis if it’s incorporated properly in our everyday routines. 

As parents though, we sometimes would rather take the easy way out and just do everything ourselves…because it’s less of a hassle.  But don’t let that stop you.  Children can learn so much from doing things by themselves.  It may not be perfect at first and not exactly how we as parents would do it but we are giving our children the opportunity to grow each time they are able to try something new, on their own.

Some important areas when thinking about children’s self help skills

· Independent grooming and dressing – this can include things such as brushing teeth, brushing hair, bathing and of course dressing oneself.

· Toileting and Personal Hygiene

·  Feeding themselves

· Chores

How to get started? Successfully complete daily routines with a smile

· Get down to their level– Start by getting down to their level and guiding your child at first (you may start with younger infants and toddlers). For instance, help them pull on and off their socks and then allow them the opportunity to try it independently and guide them through it when needed.

· Easy to follow Steps – For difficult tasks or when they are first starting a new skill you may consider breaking down each skill into easy to follow steps.  For instance, when children are learning to brush their teeth, you could have them take out the toothbrush and toothpaste (from easy access area that they are able to reach on their own) put on the toothpaste, brush their teeth, spit, rinse…..etc.  Remember it’s important to start off with only a few steps and then increase their duties as they go.

· Picture schedule– For the younger kids, it’s great to incorporate a picture schedule to go alongside the steps.  Also remember to hang these schedules in the area that the skill takes place.  So, if they are learning to pick up their toys in their bedroom, don’t forget to include the picture schedule in that area, so they can refer to it for support when needed.  As parents we can also refer back to these schedules when the child is trying to master a new skill.

· Be a good role model – As your child is learning all these new, wonderful skills don’t forget to role model the proper skill which they are trying to learn.  If you tend to not use soap during hand washing, then you can’t expect them too.  Be sure to follow your own instructions.  And the best way to do so maybe by taking turns with your child,  At first you model how to put on your shoes and then they can try.  What a great and fun way to spend time with your children and master a skill all at the same time.

· Offer Choices – It’s a great idea to offer choices during routines to help encourage their completion, especially for the little ones.  You may give them a choice between bubble gum and fresh mint toothpaste when they are working on tooth brushing or using a blue or green brush when grooming their hair.  These simple choices offer independence to our children and will assist in the learning process.

· First/then Statements – Don’t forget the ever important First/then statements when working on self help skills.  For instance, first we will clean our room then we will go outside to play or first we will wash our hands then we will eat lunch.  These really work.

· Celebrate Successes – Make a big deal out of all their successes.  Remember to praise and support them along the way.  You could consider creating a reward chart if that works for you. 

Be realistic with your expectations. Some examples of what to expect:

Older Infants(8 to 18 months)

· Help to dress and undress themselves

· Understand routines and be able to participate in them

· Drink from a cup, begin to use utensils and eat finger foods

· Able to make choices, can use the word no

· Remember that they may understand more than they can actually communicate

· Recognize and point to body parts

18 to 36 Months

· Able to feed themselves with spoon

· Help with cleaning up toys and putting clothes in the hamper

· Work on potty training

· Able to imitate actions from adults

· Really participate in the hand washing process

· Able to and actually enjoys trying to do tasks on their own (remember to model for them)

3 and 4 Year Olds

· Understands concepts such as not right now, soon or later

· Listens and understands more

· Able to help with all area of daily routine, such as tooth brushing, cleaning room, dressing and personal hygiene

In the end, self help skills are healthy, developmentally appropriate and certainly worth the effort and time it takes to implement them. Try not to make it harder than it has to be. a Make it a fun time with your children.  It is certainly a wonderful learning opportunity for the entire family.  And how great is it that we as parents, are not only able to guide and support them, but have front row seats to witness our kids growing into independent little people.  Enjoy!


Kelli Didomenico brings over 20 years of experience to her role as Director of Family Engagement at The Children’s Workshop.  In her role she welcomes and supports children and families directly but also supports the company’s center Directors to encourage families to become actively involved in their child’s education through parent committees, family events, and by volunteering in our classrooms.  Additionally, she reaches out to form partnerships that enhance the services that The Children’s Workshop can provide for its families.  Kelli earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work from Rhode Island College.