My kids are creeping toward the age of independence. As my oldest nears his seventh birthday, I still can't comprehend how he is reading books instead of chewing on them. If your children are still young, it's hard to know at what age they will be ready for certain things, like taking a shower by themselves or staying home alone. Below are some general guidelines and resources, but bear in mind that each child is different and nothing is a hard-and-fast rule. In general, these are the ages that a child can:
1. Take a shower by herself
When children are as young as 4, you can start teaching them to wash and rinse themselves in the bath, according to Parents.com. When they get a little older, you can turn on and off the water for them, and let them practice showering themselves with your guidance. Generally, by age 6, most children should be able to shower by themselves and even know how to turn on and off the water. It's a good idea to stay nearby in case they slip or need your help and to check to be sure they rinsed out all the soap. This is a great confidence and independence-building skill.
2. Be dropped off at a party or play date
This one is a bit more complicated because it depends on your child's maturity and the circumstances. You can usually safely drop off a 5- or 6-year-old at a house party where a small group of kids will be watching a movie or magician. However, I wouldn't do the same at a party at an indoor arcade. And for a play date? That depends on how much you trust the friend's parent. For example, do you know if the parents will be supervising the play date or leaving the kids alone with a 12-year-old sibling? This is one of those instances when there is no right or wrong answer, and a lot depends on your child's personality and comfort level.
Cooking is one of those things that we'd rather not let kids do alone, because instead of making our life easier, it usually makes life harder. Letting my 5-year old tear up lettuce for last night's salad was excellent fine motor practice for her, not to mention a potential bonding experience for both of us, but it was a true test of my patience. But the truth is, even preschoolers can get in on the cooking action. There are even kitchen tools sold by Montessori specialty websites made just for kids — even knives. When they can use a stove or the oven is a different matter. Generally a mature 9- or 10-year-old can handle the stovetop, as long as you teach him the important safety precautions. And even a 6-year-old can handle the microwave, so long as he can read buttons and understand the display. (Just make sure he knows not to put tinfoil inside.)
4. Stay home alone
Currently, there are only three states that mandate how old a child must be to be left home alone (14 in Illinois, 10 in Oregon, and a wee 8 in Maryland). So what's the general rule? Safe Kids Worldwide recommends that no child should be left home alone before the child turns 12 or 13, because children that young are usually not equipped to handle an emergency situation — but again every situation is different. A mature 11-year-old may be able to handle the responsibility, while an impulsive 13-year-old may not. Once your child is older than 10, you can start asking yourself questions like, "Would my child know what to do if a stranger knocked on the door? Does my child listen to rules about not using knives or the oven? Would he know what to do in case of an emergency?" Once you can answer these questions confidently in the affirmative, you can go over rules with your kids, and even go on a "practice outing" where you are nearby and easily reachable to work out any kinks. Be sure to check out more tips on leaving your kids home alone from the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
And if your children are still too young for any of these options, cherish the moments while you have them. Before you know it, they'll be asking you for the car keys and planning their own social calendars.