Addressing the Issue of Kid Milestones
As I walked over to the dining room table to join my family for lunch recently, I saw that my four-year-old was happily and competently using a dull butter knife to spread peanut butter from his plate onto a banana.
“Don’t worry,” my husband said, as if reading my mind – and raised eyebrows. “I’ve seen him do this before. He likes using the knife.”
Truth be told, the words “knife” and “four-year-old” in the same thought pattern made me cringe. For at least the umpteenth time since my son’s birth, that annoying question started to gnaw at me: at what age do we give our children wings and say: “Do it yourself? You’re ready!”
In asking various parenting experts about common milestones such as tying shoes, making beds and yes…using kitchen utensils, a common response I got was: relax…and gain some confidence in your children’s abilities.
Wendy Young, founder of “Kidlutions: Solutions for Kids,” said her own children were helping her out in the kitchen at a very young age. “By age three, they used butter knives to help cut fruit, green peppers and various other items for our meals. They adored helping out and all three of them have been adventurous eaters,” Young said.
Sara Lise Raff, an educational consultant, responded to some other milestones I had questions about:
Tying shoes: With the popularity of Velcro sneakers and shoes “it has become acceptable for a later time table for tying shoes,” Raff said. That said, parents can and should introduce the practice by age five “and by age eight they really should be proficient.”
Making beds: This chore can start as early as age three and no later than age five, Raff advised. “Remember you are not looking for perfection, just [an] effort to show that they are moving the sheets, blanket and pillow toward the head of the bed.”
Learning phone numbers: Children need to practice learning their full address, parent’s cell phone and home phone numbers by about age four, Raff said. And, “they should continually practice each time they leave their homes for big outings. By age five they should know how to dial these numbers on their own,” she said.
Of course, when assessing a child’s “readiness” to do something, Erica Curtis, a licensed marriage and family therapist, emphasizes that it’s always important to consider the child’s personality and individual ability to learn.
“The answer to when kids should start doing certain things is simply, when you think they are ready,” she said. “Because every child is so different (in terms of temperament and personality) and because every child develops different abilities at different rates and at different times, it is more useful to identify what to look for to determine a child’s readiness, versus identifying at which age ‘any’ child would be [or should be] ready,” Curtis said.
A child’s ability to follow directions, to exercise self-restraint versus their level of impulsivity, and their ability to understand subtle differences on when it’s okay to do something and when it’s not, are areas to consider, she advised.
There are, of course, ages where it is absolutely not appropriate to allow children to do certain things that could be unsafe, regardless of how mature a child seems, Curtis noted. “This plays into common sense.” While states vary in their guidelines on what age a child can be left alone without parental supervision, for example, children in general “should not be left home alone before the age of 10,” Curtis advised.
What do readers think? At what age did you start teaching your children to tie their own shoes, make their beds, or allow them to stay at home alone without your supervision?