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What Are Self-Help Skills for Children?

By Tara Barnett
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Self-help skills for children can take a number of different forms. Unlike self-help for adults, this term is typically used to mean basic life skills when applied to children. Even so, there has been a rise in books that promote self-help skills for children that more closely resemble those for adults. These additional skills might include self-control, positive thinking, or even organizational habits. Any skill that will help a child succeed in life can be placed in this category, and which skills are required may be different in different cultures.

Some of the most common skills for children focus on developing independence. Learning how to feed, dress, and clean up after oneself are all important skills children should learn. The understanding that these tasks must be performed on a daily basis may take longer to develop, but the basic physical coordination to complete these tasks can be conditioned at an early age. It is generally understood that children of different ages are suited to different self-help skills of this type, but also that all children progress at different paces.

Basic self-help skills can also include knowing when to ask for help. Teaching self-help skills should involve promoting independence, but sometimes asking for help can be considered a skill of this type. For example, children who are not yet entirely toilet trained can be taught to ask for the toilet. When children know that a skill will be required of them in the future, it often makes it much easier to transition into independent responsibility for that skill.

There are also self-help skills for children that do not relate to basic life tasks. These are similar to adult self-help skills and focus primarily on improving the child's attitude and life. Specifically for children, learning how to maintain positive self-esteem and body image are very important. While imposing diets on children is often considered controversial, there are also books about dieting and exercise intended to help children improve themselves. Whether these skills are appropriate for children is something parents must consider in order to protect the child's well-being.

It is important to note that not all children progress at the same speed and that in some cases it may be seen as inappropriate for children to learn certain skills. There are cultures in which children do not learn to dress themselves until they are older, and there are cultures in which only children of one gender learn certain skills. In most cases, it is less important when a child learns these skills than it is that the child becomes a fully socialized human being in his or her own culture.

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Discussion Comments
By MrsPramm — On May 25, 2014

@clintflint - I've seen a lot of tantrums in my life having taught little kids and they do seem to broadly fall into two camps. The kids who have had nothing but encouragement and praise no matter what they do and the kids who never get encouragement or praise.

Children shouldn't be treated like a special project. They are humans with personalities and if you respond to them in a human way, they will grow up right. Give them respect and honesty and love.

By clintflint — On May 24, 2014

@Iluviaporos - I know when I was a kid my father was extremely strict and he would crush any opposition we offered him. I've noticed that I find it difficult as an adult to face any kind of confrontation.

I think the best thing you can do is just to be reasonable. Let kids be independent if they want to and discuss what works and what doesn't and why with them. If they don't ever get to take control, then they don't learn to trust themselves.

By lluviaporos — On May 24, 2014

I've been thinking about this recently, because my nephew has started to become a little bit defiant in some of the things he does when he visits us. He will refuse to put on his pajamas for example, in a kind of playful way, but still quite firmly and claim he doesn't see the point.

It's good in a way because it makes me really think about what I ask him to do and whether or not there is really a reason behind it. I try not to ask him to do anything that isn't necessary. But at the same time I don't want him to lose respect for adults, so I make sure to insist that he does obey whenever I tell him to do something.

It just seems difficult to find that line between encouraging them to be independent and self confident, and encouraging them to do what they're told for their own good.

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