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Self-care: What to expect when
As your child gets older she'll learn – and want – to do more things for herself, from tying her shoelaces and taking a bath to making her bed and setting the table. While watching your kindergartner grow increasingly independent can be bittersweet, learning to take care of herself is an important part of her personal and social development.
Skills she'll work at
Dressing and undressing: Kindergartners should be up to the challenge of zippers, buttons, and clasps. And it's at this age that your child will learn how to tie her shoes, though some children don't get the hang of it until around age 6.
Using the toilet: By the time your child enters kindergarten, she should be completely self-sufficient in the bathroom, though she still may not be proficient at wiping.
Taking a bath: Some children this age may want to bathe on their own, though they will need assistance with washing their body and hair. Give your kindergartner the illusion of independence by getting the bathwater ready and then staying in the background, but within earshot in case she needs a hand, says Denise Aloisio, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician in Rochester, New York. Aloisio also recommends that parents lower the temperature on the family's hot-water heater to no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, so a child can't accidentally scald herself. And teach your child always to turn the cold water on first.
Preparing breakfast: Five-year-olds should be able to fix themselves cold cereal and pour some juice or milk, but you should still expect some spills.
Packing her backpack: Kindergartners feel very grown up about packing their bag for school. You'll probably need to check, though, to make sure that essentials such as sweaters, raincoats, and lunches are not left out.
Helping out around the house: Children this age can pick up their toys, make their beds, and clean up their bedrooms. They can also lend you and your partner a hand with simple tasks in the kitchen and garden. Many youngsters, for instance, love to stir the brownie mix or water flowers.
What you can do
Always, encouragement is key. Whenever your child tries her hand at a new skill, tell her you're proud she made the effort (regardless of the result) and urge her to try again. Don't always jump in to help; it's essential that she have enough time to master tasks on her own, at her own pace. Try not to pressure her before she's ready, either. Be flexible – if packing her backpack prolongs the process of getting ready for school, build in extra time. If tying her shoelaces seems to take all day, don't sweat it. The more she practices these newfound skills, the more accomplished she'll get. Lastly, try not to do jobs over again after your child. She will notice, for example, if you always remake her bed. You're sending the message that she didn't do it correctly. It's more important for her to get a lot of practice than it is to get it right.
Keep a watchful eye on your child as she experiments with things she hasn't tried before, and explain why she can't do everything for herself. Tell her, for instance, why it's not safe for her to turn on the oven or cut her own bread with the bread knife. She may not be happy about it, but she'll understand.
What to watch out for
Children develop skills differently, some more quickly than others, but if your child actively resists attempting any of the tasks above or shows no interest in learning them, talk to her pediatrician.
As the years roll by, your child will get better and better at taking care of herself. She'll be able to make toast for breakfast, and then it's just a matter of time before she can do laundry and cook dinner, not to mention drive herself to soccer practice.