As parents, we walk a fine line between caring for our children and teaching them how to care for themselves. When they're little, they need our help with everything from eating to bathing to staying warm. Over time, kids usually take the lead on things like feeding and dressing themselves, but it can be difficult to know when it's time for them to start soloing the bigger milestones, such as packing their own lunches for school or handling conflicts with teachers without a parent's help.
Blogger Amy Carney recently shared a post about the things parents should stop doing for their teens. In it, Carney shared the basic skills that she expects her kids to master by the time they hit 13, such as waking themselves up in the morning, making their own breakfast (and lunch), and filling out their own paperwork.
Carney also noted that once her kids hit their teens, she no longer delivers forgotten items to their school, meddles in their academics, or stresses about last-minute "emergencies" that occur as the result of her kids' poor planning. As you might expect in this age of social commentary, Carney's post was met with everything from praise to derision, with some parents hailing her for raising independent kids and others villainizing her for ruining childhood for kids everywhere.
So which tasks should your children be able to handle on their own by the time they reach high school? To get to the bottom of this, I took the scientific approach of reaching out to parenting and childhood behavior expert Barb Harvey, executive director of Parents, Teachers, and Advocates for her thoughts on when kids should handle certain tasks. I also took a less scientific but more mom-centric approach of polling my Facebook friends for their opinions.
Harvey didn't address the specific scenarios mentioned below but she had a relatively simple answer for all of them: As with most milestones, the age at which children learn to master certain skills will vary depending upon the maturity and interest level of the child. This might explain the age range I noted among my Facebook friends when I asked them when their kids started handling these life skills.
Waking themselves up in the morning
Megan Williams' daughter was 10 when she started waking herself up in the mornings for school. Amy Dalal's daughter was 7. Carney expected her kids to do this once they hit middle school.
Packing school lunches
Kathy Bimber's kids started packing their own school lunches in the first grade while Jennifer Taggart's children took it on in the sixth grade.
Handling issues with teachers and coaches
My unscientific Facebook poll revealed that many parents start prompting their kids to deal with their own conflicts with teachers and coaches in the fourth or fifth grade.
Kathy Bimber's kids were off to college before they managed to tackle their own laundry pile (although she says they did help quite a bit with the cooking and cleaning around the house). Other parents had their kids take on their own laundry by middle school.
Managing time and stuff
As Carney noted in her blog post, "school projects do not get assigned the night before they are due." She expects her kids to manage their own time and belongings (books, homework, sports equipment, etc.) by middle school. Friends in Facebook land agreed.
As you'll notice, there is no one right or wrong answer to when kids should tackle certain tasks. Some kids may take on responsibility for waking themselves up as soon as they reach school-age, while others aren't quite ready for this until they hit their teens. Some can handle the laundry at a young age while others might be a disaster with the laundry soap for a few more years.
At the end of the day, there's only one expert who can determine when your kids have the maturity to handle certain skills, and that's you. If your kids aren't ready to pack their own lunches — don't sweat it. Help them master the skills they're ready to tackle and keep working towards the end goal of raising responsible, capable adults. Because if there's one thing that we can all agree on as parents, it's that time moves quickly when you're raising kids. One day you will wish they could just do things without you and the next day, you will lament that they do.