How to Increase Independence in School-Age Children

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Image via Katie Hurley

Parents often talk about raising independent children, but that’s easier said than done. Life gets busy, and sometimes it’s just easier to do things for the kids in an effort to get out the door on time. Even though it might take longer, it’s important to put age-appropriate responsibilities in the hands of our children.

Giving kids a sense of responsibility increases their self-confidence and sets them up for success in other areas of their lives. They take that responsibility with them to school, to team practice, and to just about everywhere else. 

The trick is to give them responsibilities that are appropriate to age and development. If you overwhelm them with tasks out of their reach, they will experience failure and start to avoid pitching in. If you give them tasks that they are capable of completing, they will experience increased self-confidence and will be motivated to work toward more independence.

Household responsibilities should not be about doing everything your way. Household responsibilities should be about empowering your children to take on these tasks in a way that works for them.

The best way to help kids increase their responsibility at home is to teach them to do it. You have to show them the correct way to sweep and what to do with the pile of dirt they collect. You have to provide instructions for folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, or organizing drawers. Give them a few guidelines and then let them take over.  

You might like to sweep the whole floor before getting the dustpan, but your child might prefer to do one small section at a time. Give your child the power to make some choices in the matter, and you’ll find that your child takes on more responsibilities as a result.

Here are some tips for providing age-appropriate household responsibilities:

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Image via iStock

Ages 6–7

Children in this age group are generally eager to pitch in and help. More often than not, they have classroom jobs at school and already perform some very important responsibilities. They feel good about helping at school, and they will feel just as good about helping at home. Keep a positive attitude and make it fun to inspire your kids to jump in and help.

Appropriate tasks for children ages 6–7:

  • Make their beds
  • Fold towels
  • Match socks
  • Put homework and other essentials in backpack
  • Put backpack by the door each night before bed
  • Wash fruits and vegetables to assist with dinner
  • Help gather ingredients for cooking and baking
  • Clear the table

{ MORE: Teaching Independence Through Chores }

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Image via iStock

Ages 89

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By now, your child understands the importance of working together to help the family. Your child is most likely already responsible for keeping a bedroom tidy or making the bed before school each day. If not, don’t fret. Kids in this age group can catch up quickly. Resist the urge to overwhelm them with too many tasks, as they likely have a fair amount of homework each night as well as team sports or other activities. Try to focus on two or three household tasks to increase responsibility at home.

Appropriate tasks for children age 8–9:

  • Set the table for dinner
  • Help cut vegetables and prepare a salad
  • Wash dishes
  • Wipe the tabletop after meals
  • Care for family pets with assistance (walking, feeding, bathing, etc.)
  • Sort laundry for washing
  • Help fold laundry
  • Organize dresser and desk
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Image via iStock

Ages 1011

The novelty of being helpful tends to wear off as kids approach the tween years. It’s important to give them tasks that feel more mature and help them feel more responsible. At this age, choices are very important. Come up with a list of six tasks that you would like your child to do on a daily/weekly basis and have your child choose three. A little bit of control in this age group can save you a lot of resentment (and eye rolls). Again, try not to overwhelm your very busy child with too many tasks. Too much to do can lead to increased stress overall.

Appropriate tasks for children age 10–11:

  • Cook simple meals
  • Help with grilling food
  • Take the lead in baking (cookies, muffins, etc.)
  • Learn to sew buttons and mend socks
  • Collect, sort, and deliver the mail to family members
  • Start the laundry (with assistance)
  • Unload the dishwasher (finally tall enough to reach high cabinets!)
  • Vacuum floors
  • Organize various rooms (kids in this age group are great with organizing … as long as it isn’t their own backpacks!) 

{ MORE: Tips to Motivate You to Get the Kids Outside (Even Though it Gets Dark So Early) }

What tasks have you set for your children? 

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How to Increase Independence in School-Age Children

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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