4 Moms: What do you do for your children, and what do they do for themselves?

4moms35kids 4 Moms share Quick and Easy Holiday Recipes {linky}
This week we’re talking about teaching self-sufficiency and independence in children, but I think there’s something more.  This question strikes at the heart of the 4 Moms tagline: How Moms of Many Manage.  Let’s face it: if you do everything for your children, you are going to run yourself ragged with just one or two.  A mom who does everything for her children isn’t managing at all.  She is letting herself be managed by the children.

I know because I sometimes find myself doing this very thing.  It is frustrating and exhausting to me, but it’s also not kind to my children.  They get frustrated waiting on an overwhelmed mom to find time to do things that they could easily do for themselves, and they are helpless when mom is busy or unavailable.  See?  Not nice.

Some may say that this is a good reason to have just one or two children, but I disagree.  I think it’s good to foster independence in children, and having a larger family presents a constant reminder to do so.  We want to train our children to be adults, and learning to do things for oneself is an important step in the process.  This is one way we hope to avoid having a 30-something live in our basement and play video games all day while yelling at mom to bring him a sandwich.  Think I’m exaggerating?  I once met that guy.  I’m glad he wasn’t my son.

And so we teach our children to do things for themselves:


I brushed and styled all of the girls’ hair when they were little.  As they got older, I showed them how and required them to “brush” their own, then bring me the brush so I could check their work and style it for them.  Even when they couldn’t make a good job of it, it was important to me that they tried and began to realize that it would one day be their own responsibility.

Once they were able to do a good job brushing, they started trying to style their own hair.  Sometimes I would “smooth it out a little,” but they improved with practice and were eventually able to do their hair entirely on their own.  The age at which they reached each stage varies with each child’s relative maturity, level of interest, and the length, thickness and texture of her hair, but I generally expect a child to do a good job brushing her own hair by 7 or 8yo and do some simple styles (braid, pony or clip) by 9 or 10yo.


Unlike hair, safety is an issue when it comes to children bathing alone, so we take that into consideration.  I never, ever leave a baby or toddler unattended, and even a child who can wash herself effectively may be young enough to warrant heavy supervision.


Here’s an area where we have some fun.  I love to let my little ones dress themselves as soon as they are able.  We fully expect them to come up with some crazy combinations, and they do not disappoint.  By 2 or 3, they are usually able to make a valiant attempt, and at 4 they are almost independent in this area though they still need help with certain shoes.  Oh – and it’s a good idea to make sure the 4yo is wearing undies each time you leave the house.


I find that kids love to be self-sufficient when it comes to food.  It’s all I can do to keep the little ones from foraging for themselves instead of joining the family for regular mealtimes and snacks.  In our house, a 5yo can get a drink of water or make toast or pb&j for himself or a younger sibling.  I let them pour their own milk around 6 or 7yo – sooner if the jug is nearly empty.  I expect them to help with meal prep or even prepare very simple meals by the time they are 8 or 10, but this is not something I have to require: they are raring to go long before that, so the trick is to find age appropriate ways for younger ones to help.

With some oversight, a 7 or 8yo can cook scrambled eggs or oatmeal.  If reading proficiently, she can follow a simple recipe for muffins, banana bread, baked oatmeal, pancakes, etc.


Another advantage to encourage self-sufficiency in children: our children see an answer to the world’s question, “How do you do it?!”  Motherhood need not be an unbearable burden that crushes us beneath endless needs and demands.  It’s not the mom’s job to personally fill every need of her children every day; only to do her to best to see that they are filled.  One way we show our love is by teaching them to take care of themselves.

Of course there is no substitute for love and attention from Mom, and sometimes we do things with them and for them that they can do for themselves.  Incidentally, this is one way they show their love for us, too, like when Lydia brought me a freshly brewed cup of coffee a few minutes ago.  She’s my new favorite child.

See what the other Moms say:

Upcoming topics for 4 Moms:

  • January 24 – Q&A
  • January 31 – What does your daily schedule look like
  • February 7 – Valentine’s Recipe
  • February 14 – How do you teach your child to work hard with a happy attitude?
  • February 21 – Q&A
  • February 28 – How do you teach your kids to work independently?

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  1. Love this post. The 2nd to last line made me giggle. I’ve missed your post!

  2. I laughed when I read about the 4yo. and undies! My sister took her 4yo. to the bathroom during church and came back red faced and trying not to laugh. After service she told me, “I was so proud when she put on her tights all by herself this morning, I didn’t even think to look if she had on undies!!!”

  3. Hi Kim, good to see you back on deck (even if it is only for a brief appearance – no pressure!).

    I love your sense of humour with the ‘new favourite child.’ I think it’s good to keep things light so they each know that they are loved and that you don’t really have favourites. I have a couple of kids who can fall into the trap of making comparisons. My standard response when they whine about what some other child has got with the ‘Why has he got what I haven’t got?’ is: “Because I love him more than you.” They can tell I’m joking and it gives them a bit of a reality check.

    You’ve given me some great ideas for dealing with hair! I was feeling a bit frustrated with the whole inability to do their own hair but now I shall follow your strategy! I shall no longer expect them to do the whole thing but make them try on their own first and add in new skills to learn as they master old ones. Thanks!

    With getting dressed, do you occasionally mix it up with expecting little ones (and sometimes older ones) to wear what they’re told? I’ve had some issues with ‘wise in their own eyes’ from making all their own clothing decisions. I’d be interested to hear if that occasionally happens in your house. Of course, we deal with that as a disobedience thing, but I do try to make sure (by instructing them in what to wear from time-to-time) that they don’t get carried away in the first place.

    Have a great day.

    In Him


    • Meredith, the little ones are very often told what to wear and are expected to obey cheerfully. I just enjoy letting them build and practice some independence by choosing their own outfits when appropriate.

  4. Thats so odd, myself and my pal were just talking about childrens responsibilities within the house yesterday. I was saying that when Amy is old enough to start ‘helping’ around the house I fully expect her to. I am of the belief that if you make chores fun from an early age then they will willingly help you when they are older. All to often we are told children have to be children and we shouldn’t make them help. I do believe that children shouldnt be expected to run the household and they should be allowed to have fun but I totally agree with you that we are doing them a disservice if we do everything for them. I am very lucky that my husband helps around the house A LOT and he also does most of the cooking as he really enjoys it (and I really don’t!) And he agrees with me that children should learn. I would hate for my daughter to marry someone in the future that had been spoilt by his mother and would think his wife was there to run after him all the time! Thank you for these tips and I wil be keeping them in mind when Amy is older! 🙂

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