Independence Day in Action: Kids Doing Things For Themselves

Last week I challenged myself to three goals of making my children more independent. Read the mixed results.

In case you missed my , let me fill you in: I have been falling behind in teaching my children how to do things for themselves, so last week I gave myself three goals to improve.

TOWEL GOAL: Both kids need to get their own bath towel every night and then hang them up themselves.

TOAST GOAL: My 5-year-old should start making his own breakfast in the morning.

NO NUDE TODDLERS GOAL: My 3-year-old needs to learn where his clothes are and to put them on himself. Shoes too.

I also gave myself three guidelines to follow: Train Them Correctly the First Time, Walk Away, Trust That They Can Do More Than You Think

TOWEL GOAL: Every night I’m called away from doing the dishes (read: looking at Facebook) to grab my kids' bath towels off the high bathroom hook. Since they are finally old enough to start the bath and wash themselves (translation: soak the dirt off), they should be able to get out of the bath and dry themselves off, too.

In actuality, this goal was less about teaching and more about taking the time to do a simple home improvement. I had to drill holes in the door and screw in low towel hooks. This small task took me five years, three days and one hour, seeing that I bought the hooks five years ago. Then it took me one day to go out to the garage to get the drill, two days to avoid drilling and one hour to actually do it. Mission accomplished!

TOAST GOAL: My idea was that my 5-year-old can make himself a piece of whole-grain jelly toast for breakfast every morning. Since we own a toaster oven and I can just imagine him being scared to get the toast out, I take the kids to the local thrift store and we buy a pop-up toaster for $5.95. (I still feel like it should have been $3.50 but, ya know, I’m cheap.)

Both boys are pretty excited about the toaster, and I discover the first fault in my plan: with my kids 18 months apart there is no way I can easily allow only my 5-year-old to make toast. I think I’ll have to monitor the 3-year-old, giving myself another job to do. But then I tell myself: trust that they can do more than you think.

I tell them the toaster rules: 1. The only things you can put in is bread and bagels (and waffles, but they’ve never had Eggo’s before, so they call me silly and say you can’t put waffle mix into the toaster). 2. Don’t stick a fork in it (true?). 3. Never make toast while bathing (which intrigued/inspired them).

Yes, they both burn their fingers the first time, but a small “Ouch!” is a good reminder to listen to your mother’s rules.

While I have taught them to make their own toast, I’m not sure I have helped myself much, because now I have to clean a Hansel-inspired trail of jelly from the counter to the table. But I think part of walk away means that things improve petty quickly if you give kids the time to get better and don’t micromanage. The drips, while not disappeared, have gotten smaller in a week. This may also be the time to confess that I am still no good at training them correctly the first time, because if I was, I would have told them to not eat their toast as they walk to the table.

NO NUDE TODDLER GOAL: Normally, when I ask my 3-year-old to go to his room and get dressed, I can bet on one of two scenarios: either he goes up and never comes back down, or — on days he is more focused — he will come back down completely naked.

Last week, after I asked him to get dressed, he came down in underwear and mismatched socks. It was an improvement. At least I know he understands the “go put on” part of “go put on your clothes.”

Like any good problem solver, I needed to know what the real issue was. I took him into the interrogation room that we thoughtfully built instead of a nursery, and I peppered him with questions. As the beads of sweat built on his beautiful olive skin that looked jaundiced in the dim glow of a single crackling bulb, I ascertained that the issue was not that he is completely deaf but that he cannot remember which drawer holds his shorts and shirts. (It’s as if his brain has already determined that he is going to be a stoner and simply never developed a short-term memory. He’s just going to fry it in 14 years anyways, the brain thought, so let’s develop his dancing skills instead.)

Labels! So I made labels for each drawer with a simple picture of what it contained.

Now, on the occasions that he does come back downstairs, my son is holding his pants and shirt. Then he hands them to me. “You try and put them on,” I say, and I walk away. If he calls for help I can come help him, but otherwise I need to leave him alone. As much as I know that the best way to learn is by experience, I am impatient and can’t resist intervening when I see a head desperately trying to push out of an arm hole.

Another thing I learned was that I handle the agonizing minutes it takes for a child to get dressed much better if I don’t wait until 5 minutes before we have to leave to tell my little nature boy to get dressed.

Finally, last step. I went shopping to buy him some slip-on shoes that he can easily put on himself. Yet somehow I did the exact opposite. I bought him some adorable lace-up black Converse. Now I have to tie his shoes. Ahhhh, why did I do that? They were so cute and on sale = irresistible. Maybe I need to have another goal: Stay Focused on Goals.

CONCLUSION: My week of Independence was a mild success. I taught my kids three things but added two new jobs for myself: cleaning up jelly drips and tying black converse. Overall I’m still happy with the change, and at least I’m one ahead.

And I think I’ll make this a yearly tradition. I will use July as the month that I asses what my kids need to learn. It’s the perfect month because of Independence Day and the long hot days of summer give us time to experiment. 


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Jennifer Westfall July 11, 2012 at 02:43 PM
SO funny! I can just imagine you doing all this! Made me laugh, thanks! I am very proud of you! ( Actually, you acomplished more than 3 goals, since you taught two boys to do something new, and did some handy work with the drill. Great job, mama! ) Well, I accomplished 2 out of my 3 goals over the past week. Still a few "kinks" to be straightened out. My son keeps putting his clothes on backwards, but atleast it makes people laugh! And, he's been throwing away his garbage. I just have to fish through it sometimes for his forks and spoons. Thanks for the challenge and for your articles!
Dave Holden July 11, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I still remember teaching my son to tie his shoes. Take the time to teach. It is priceless.
K. T. Lane July 11, 2012 at 03:53 PM
I don't know what kind of mother would joke about her child using drugs, but I find it disgusting. You must not know what it is like to deal with a child and addiction to say something like that.
Shelly Maslak July 11, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Cute article as always! For someone with only four legged children it is fun to see the trials people with two legged ones have. Although different than mine, they all have the personalities!
Mason Gehring July 11, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Great Article! I definitely see improvement on his dancing skills!


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