Recently at a local school I spotted a Mum picking up her three children, they were walking to their car.  There was Mum carrying three backpacks and other bits and pieces and there was the children carrying, well, nothing! It was then that I realized that most mothers and children were doing exactly the same thing.

Teaching children to look after themselves from an early age is one of the best skills that a parent can teach.  At what stage do you then expect your child to be self-sufficient?  The answer to this question would be, younger than you think.  Children are capable of much more then we give them credit for or allow them to do.

I am not suggesting that children be expected to be slaves and run countless jobs for parents but that they are taught the fundamental and all-important skills of looking after themselves.  This means being able to get themselves a snack if hungry, help pack their own lunchbox for daycare or school, tidy up their own room, choose and select appropiate clothes, trying to dress themselves, make their bed, organize their own backpacks and carry their own bits and pieces.  A child of three is able to do all these things and look after themselves. Yes, three!

So where do you start if your children have not yet mastered these life skills?  It’s a good idea just to start with one skill and concentrate on that.  You may have several that you have thought need to be addressed, find an easy one to start with.  School lunch boxes is ideal, it is a job that needs to be done most days.  You will need to set some basic guidelines for what is to go in the lunch box ie. a popper, a piece of fruit, one pre-packaged snack, a sandwich for lunch and one other item and be sure to explain this to your child.  It is a good opportunity to talk about healthy eating and the types of food their body needs to stay well and healthy.  The emphasis should be on healthy food with treats saved for once a week.

Find a time of day that works for you, some people prefer the morning of school, others find the afternoon of the day before is better as it is one less job that needs to be completed on the day and there is less rush.  Explain to you child that it is now their responsibility to pack their own lunch box and do a few trial runs.  The food should be placed in the fridge or pantry in a place that they can access themselves without your assistance.  Make sure that can reach the poppers, know how to make and cut a sandwich, can find which sandwich bag to use… the little time you spend in preparation will set them up for success.

Look for and praise your child when they are helping and doing a great job, give gentle guidance if they are needing some direction with their food they choices.  When the job is complete, a big smile and a comment on their accomplishment will go far in making them feel good about their contribution.  Especially praise and comment to them when they do it quickly and without fuss.

When you first try this you may encounter some resistance as you are changing the game rules, and the way things are usually done, however be persistent and within a two weeks with continuity and praise they will be packing their own lunch box.  You will also be pleasantly surprised at how much they enjoy doing this, they love the opportunity to choose what they put in the box and best of all there will be no more “I didn’t want that…..”

It is our job as a parent to prepare our child for the world outside of ourselves. A large part of this preparation is to be self sufficient and to be able to look after themselves.  Try not to get caught up in the thinking that “it is easier if I just do….” Sure it is easier in a way in the beginning but who does not think that in the long run, a month down the track, that it is easier for mum or dad if their child can look after them self. So once you have handed over the lunchboxes then it’s time to look at your list and pick the next life skill to start on.  Again I am not saying that children need to look after themselves though more of starting to learn life skills from a early age as most of us did.

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