10 Simple Life Skills Kids Should Master by Age 5 (Think: Wipe Their Own Butts)

Jill Smokler | Nov 21, 2013 Being a Mom

If there’s one thing no one will ever accuse me of, it’s being a helicopter parent. You know, the kind of parent who’s constantly swooping down on her kids to do something for them that they should be able to do themselves. No hovering here.

I want them to be self-sufficient, after all. It makes them confident, responsible, and helps them grow up. Not that I want them to grow up faster or anything. I just prefer to not, you know, be packing a 16-year-old's lunch every day.

My kids are 5, 7, and 9. At their ages, these are the things I expect them to know:

*I said expect. We're still working on number 6.

  • 1. How to pick out weather-appropriate clothing


    Image via grapclover/Flickr

    It’s easy for them to ask me what tomorrow’s weather is supposed to be, and then to choose the right wardrobe for it. If not, they may have to learn the hard way that shorts and sandals aren’t the best choice for late fall in Maryland. And at their age, they’d better be able to tie their shoes and zip their coat.

  • 2. How to keep foreign objects out of bodily orifices


    Image via xtl/Flickr

    No nasty coins in the mouth. No pencils up the nose. No Skittles in the ear. Follow this simple rule and we avoid a humiliating trip to the emergency room.

  • 3. How to clean themselves up


    Image via horiavarlan/Flickr

    There comes a stage when Mommy or Daddy does not need to be present during a bath or shower, because a kid has learned what to wash and how to wash it appropriately. It’s best that we reach this stage sooner than later, because every year you wait, it gets more awkward.

  • 4. How to make a snack


    Image via tunnelarmr/Flickr

    It is not hard to pour a bowl of cereal, as long as your milk containers aren’t too big. Nor is it hard to make a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Unless it involves the use of sharp cutlery, kids, you can make your own damn snack.

  • 5. How to use and answer a phone


    Image via reinvented/Flickr

    Appropriate: “Hello? This is Mommy’s phone. She can’t take your call right now.” Not appropriate: “Hello? This is Mommy’s phone. She’s pooping.” Related: How to speak clearly and politely when on the phone with Grandma.

  • 6. How to wipe


    Image via janewaterbury/Flickr

    I’m trying to think of one thing in life that’s better than the day when your youngest learns to wipe his own ass. Sex? A lottery win? World peace? No ... still not quite big enough.

  • 7. How to pack their own lunch


    Image via denverjeffrey/Flickr

    This is something that I gradually introduce as they get older, but it’s not rocket science. And when they finally do it themselves—this is important—there will be no complaining about what they had for lunch. It’s on you, kid.

  • 8. How to do basic housework


    Kids can learn how to make their own bed, set the table, dust a shelf, sweep a floor, pick up dog poop. Older kids can start the dishwasher or put away their own laundry. Maybe even do the laundry. Get them in the habit of taking care of themselves. They absolutely need to know how to do these things before they leave the house and set out on their own. If not, they might come back ... with laundry. This is not acceptable.

  • 9. How to talk to an adult


    Image via Scary Mommy

    This is basic politeness, like shaking hands, accepting a compliment, and not mumbling your name when asked. Especially understanding that “Yo, s’up?” is not an appropriate greeting.

  • 10. How to ask a stranger for help


    Image via mattsimpson-ca/Flickr


    We’re always telling kids not to talk to strangers, but if my youngest is lost at the mall, I want him to find the appropriate stranger to talk to. A policeman or—better yet—a kindly grandmother. If something terrible happens, I need to know my kid will get help from a nice and responsible and non-creepy adult.


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