Dr. Staci Carr: Promoting Independence in Children

Child with woman wearing red sweater.
To promote independence in your son or daughter, talk with them about what they would like to do to help maintain the household. (Pexels Images)

Staci E. Carr, Ph.D., is a technical assistance associate at the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, which is affiliated with the VCU School of Education. She has worked and conducted research in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorder, specifically social skills training, since 1993. She has developed programs to support children with varying abilities in a variety of settings in Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Virginia. Like many of us, she is working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below are her Top Five Tips for Promoting Independence in Children.

1. Find age-appropriate chores that your son or daughter can do and make a list.

All children are different, and age is not the only factor when determining the right chore. Think about maturity level, physical ability and interest when selecting the right chores for your kids. For more information, visit The Spruce website.

Headshot of Staci Carr, Ph.D.
Staci E. Carr, Ph.D.

You can use video modeling to show how to do a task or a task list, with steps for how to do the specific task. For example, check to see if dishes are clean or dirty. If clean, unload them and reload. If dirty, continue to load, add soap, press the normal cycle and start, and close the door. For younger children consider using pictures.

2. Talk with your son or daughter about what they would like to do to help maintain the household.

With everyone at home these days, dishes pile up faster, laundry piles up, vacuuming can be done often. If everyone in the house picks activities to help lighten the load, everyone can be engaged, and there will be less burden on one person. If your son or daughter really likes to be outside, watering plants, mowing and trimming may be better options than vacuuming or dusting. Remember: choice = buy-in.

3. Make your expectations clear and model how you want the task to be done.

Keep in mind that your child may view their room as being very neat; you may see it as a total wreck. If you have specific expectations, work with your child to show them the process, take pictures of the desired end result, and share them with him or her. If your expectations aren’t completely met, reinforce the effort. Then show the picture of your expectations, and help them identify where they can spend more time later.

4. Praise for a job well done!

Reinforcement increases the likelihood of the behavior happening again. Let them know how helpful they are to the family! We all like to be told that we have done something well! We like to feel needed and appreciated. Not only reinforce them directly, but tell other family members how helpful they were. (“Look at how beautiful the flowers are because Sam waters them every day!”)

5. Add and expand.

Your child might start with putting silverware away, and then increase to silverware and bowls, and eventually can unload the whole dishwasher. These skills will lead to growth in independence, teamwork, life skills, and work ethic for your child. As a bonus, it helps the family unit manage the multiple responsibilities that they have at this time.