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You Might Be Pleasantly Surprised By What Children Can and Want To Do


You can be teaching Self-Help Skills

Who would have ever imagined that five-year-old Teagan would be “asking,” for jobs, but she was. Her parents had explained that there are three types of jobs: 

The jobs we do as a member of the family. 

The jobs we do out of the goodness of our heart.

The jobs that are above and beyond and as a result earn us cash. 

Teagan wanted cash. She had heard there were children going hungry and she wished to donate money to the local food shelf. She had already delivered the contents of her piggy bank to the food shelf once and was eager to do it again. 

How do we garner in our children a drive to take on responsibilities and to care for others?

It can begin with little daily tasks, and fortunately, a positive of the pandemic is that we have more time to teach them. Often the biggest obstacle to children learning self-help skills and how to complete household tasks and responsibilities is us. We can do it faster, more efficiently and to our own standards. That is why it is so important to remind ourselves that when it requires our child fifteen minutes to complete a task, we could finish in two, we are NOT wasting time. We are teaching essential life skills and, in the process, giving our children opportunities to develop problem-solving skills and a sense of competence and caring. 

What can we expect kids to be able to do?

Every child is unique, but Lynn and I have created a list of potential tasks and skills. You can decide where your child is ready to start.  We caution you not to underestimate your child’s budding abilities. I once witnessed a group of four-year-old children in Japan “cooking,” in a professional kitchen boiling rice and using knives! No one was injured. Even infants can hold a clean diaper during the diapering process, or finish pulling off the sock you released from their heel.

Think teeny, tiny steps. Depending on when you begin introducing the jobs you’ll start at the beginning. The four-year-old who has not dressed himself at all will begin with helping to take off clothing. While a four-year-old who has been dressing himself for several years will be ready to select clothing, put t-shirts and pants in the dresser and sort laundry. Each skill begins with you assisting your child, and gradually easing back your support as she becomes more proficient. 

You can also determine which tasks are “expected,” as a member of your family, what is “above and beyond,” and how your children may use the skills out of the goodness of their heart to help others. 


  • Hold clean diaper during diapering process
  • Pull off socks, pants, shoes and help with shirts 
  • Put on socks, pants, shoes, shirts, jackets, hats, and mittens
  • Throw soiled clothing in a hamper 
  • Sort socks, underwear, and other clothing 
  • Fold laundry 
  • Place clothing in drawers 
  • Select clothing by checking the temperature
  • Help move laundry from washer to dryer 
  • Sort laundry 
  • Start washer 
  • Start dryer 
  • Hang air dry items 
  • Take responsibility for own laundry  

Food Prep

  • Hand you their plate, bowl, cup and silverware
  • Throw items in trash 
  • Bring plate, bowl, glass etc. to kitchen sink 
  • Wipe table 
  • Set table 
  • Clear table 
  • Push in chairs 
  • Help empty or load bottom shelf of dishwasher 
  • Empty the silverware from the dishwasher and sort it 
  • Bring items to the table 
  • Serve self at the table 
  • Wash vegetables 
  • Sprinkle cinnamon on toast 
  • Spread peanut butter, humus etc. 
  • Use a napkin and silverware appropriately 
  • Help dump ingredients into a mixing bowl 
  • Mix ingredients with a spoon 
  • Get out measuring cups, spatulas etc. 
  • Tear lettuce 
  • Grate Cut soft items like mushrooms 
  • Peel oranges or eggs 
  • Mash with fork
  • Measure flour, sugar, water etc. 
  • Open cans or jars 
  • Peel
  • Follow a simple recipe – make it easy by creating “picture” recipes 
  • Operate appliances such as a blender or toaster 
  • Completely empty or load the dishwasher
  • Plan a meal
  • Sauté or boil 

Household Chores

  • Throw items in trash 
  • Pick up toys starting with one or two 
  • Sweep Dust Sort toys 
  • Make bed – pull-up comforter 
  • Line up shoes 
  • Hang up coats
  • Wipe windows 
  • Water in-door plants 
  • Wipe shower walls and sinks 
  • Assist parent with younger sibling – get diaper, pacifier, toy 
  • Play with younger sibling 

Care for Pet

  • Pet gently 
  • Help feed/water pet 
  • Let pet outside when needed 
  • Assist taking pet for walks 
  • Assist training pets  


  • Stay in the yard 
  • Help pick up leaves/twigs 
  • Fill wagon with leaves, twigs or wood 
  • Sweep
  • Shovel 
  • Planting 
  • Weeding 
  • Watering 
  • Look for worms or insects Look for birds 

These are just examples. Add your own and expand to include safety skills such as calling 911, how to order and act in a restaurant, write thank you notes, help with grocery shopping (Hopefully, again someday.) Quality time with your child does not just have to be a child focused activity. Special moments can be integrated into the completion of daily tasks.

Young children WANT to do what you are doing. They feel needed and important when they contribute to the family. The more you include them during these early years, the higher the odds they will freely continue to complete these tasks when they are fully competent to accomplish them independently.  Please give it a try.  Dr. Mary and Lynn

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