By Wendy Rice, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist
When I went to college, I kind of knew how to do laundry, check the oil in my car, and use my trusty hotpot to make soup. I wasn’t quite so skilled at balancing my checkbook or managing my time effectively and, I was at a complete loss when it came to figuring out a tip in a restaurant.
Over the years, I have met with several parents who are getting ready to send their children to college and wonder whether they have adequately prepared them for living independently.
As part of an evaluation, we sometimes look at and compare a child’s level of “adaptive” or independent functioning skills with what would typically be expected of a person of the same age. What often emerge are some highlighted areas where the kids have excellent skills and are quite competent, with other areas that are in need of some bolstering.
This seems like a relevant topic as kids are heading off to residential summer camps and preparing for their next grade, school or even their first job. It’s even important when they are spending a large amount of time with another parent in a separate household (click here to listen to a recent interview I did on this topic).
Or, perhaps you just want your child to do a bit more for him or herself at home. Whatever the reason, teaching your children independence prepares them for the real world and sets them up for success.
Let’s think about this in terms of a few categories:
- Is your child in charge of his or her own personal hygiene? By about midway through elementary school it is ideal for kids to have a routine for teeth, hair, showers, etc… They may need some reminders, but ultimately, this is one area where early independence is quite important.If your child is in middle school and not taking care of his or her own personal hygiene, perhaps it is time for some problem solving to shift the responsibility. As they get older, they should let you know when they need more shampoo and toothpaste, or go with you to purchase refills.Does your child know how to unclog at toilet? How about cleaning the gunk out of the shower drain? These are all good skills that will likely come in handy down the line. They don’t have to do all of these chores all the time, but knowing how to do them is important.
- Is your child able to pour from a full container? Can he or she make a bowl of cereal, scrambled eggs or soup? Can he cut his own food and take appropriate sized bites?If you have a young Julia Child on your hands it is likely that this area is well taken care of, but if not, it is a good idea to make sure that your child can prepare some basic meals, know his way around the kitchen as well as basic food safety (anything that touches raw chicken needs washing).Is she trustworthy with appliances? Does she know how to use the stove and the oven? Do you trust her enough to allow her to do some cooking? If not, why? And what would it take for you to feel okay with that?Take some time to think about how you can teach your child to be more independent around food and in the kitchen. It will serve him or her well in the future.
- Does your child understand the basic workings of a checking account? Does he understand the differences between using checks, ATM/debit cards, credit cards, and cash? Does she know how to access her bank account online if this is appropriate? Has he had an allowance for a while? Does she know about saving money or does she spend whatever she has immediately? Is your child comfortable with going into a store and making a purchase from start to finish, including counting change?If you answered no to some of these, it is time to start teaching your kids about these areas. Encourage your child to take the lead when you reach the checkout line, even if it is just buying a bottle of water in the convenience store.
- Does your child wear a watch or check his or her phone for the time with some degree of regularity? Does she generally have a good sense of time and when things begin and end, other than just her favorite TV shows? Can he get himself up in the morning? Does she feel a sense of urgency about time when it is appropriate?If you answered no to any of these, my first question is whether your child has a learning disability (SLD) or ADHD/ADD. “Time blindness” or a poor sense of time is very common in kids and adult with SLD’s and ADHD/ADD.In any case, teaching your child about time by playing with alarms and timers to see how long different tasks take and to become more independent with staying on schedule are two great ways to begin to grow in this area.
Hopefully this will give you a good head start in terms of some things to think about with regard to your child’s level of independence.
As psychologists, we are often in the role of educating parents about typical development and what can be expected at particular ages or developmental levels. All kids develop somewhat differently and some more unevenly than others. We are here to help if you or someone you know would like some support in this area.