Tips and Tricks for Self-Care Skills

As children grow and develop, they begin to learn to do more and more tasks by themselves. Practicing to complete self-care tasks on their own will help them to gain more confidence in trying new tasks, build their sense of self-esteem, and give them a feeling of pride in their own independence! While completing self-care tasks, children are working hard on using their fine motor and gross motor skills in a coordinated matter to complete the skill. Here are some tips and tricks to increase your child’s independence with their self-care skills! Any practice that your child can get with completing self-care tasks on their own is beneficial for them and will help them become more independent! You can provide them with the assistance that they need and allow them to continue practicing, with your help decreasing each time! Allow for extra time during the day for your child to practice these skills! You can use a backwards chaining strategy to help your child learn a new skill. This involves breaking the task down into simple steps and teaching them the task in reverse order. This allows them to experience success with completing small steps, one at a time. For example, when putting on a shirt, you can assist your child with all steps until the final step of pushing their arms through the sleeves. On the next trial, have your child try to do a little more each time! Also, adult, parent or sibling modeling works great to demonstrate the skills being targeted!

Self-Feeding:

  • Give your child plenty of time and practice with using utensils while eating!
  • Encourage them to explore and “play” with the utensils during activities such as feeding a pretend baby, using utensils to cut and pick up pieces of Play Doh, or even feeding you!
  • Consider using tools that are more beneficial to them such as child-sized utensils, bowls that attach to the table, and small cups with handles.
  • Allow them to get messy as they explore their food!

Dressing:

  • Encourage your child to dress and groom themselves and provide as little assistance as possible.
  • Allow for extra time (in the mornings, before bed, when leaving the house) to give them time to practice.
  • Begin by taking clothing off first – take off socks and shoes, pull off pants, etc. then have them help with putting on – push arms through sleeves, pull up their pants, etc.
  • Putting on a coat:
    • Hood Method: Place the hood of your child’s coat on their head and have them reach behind with their arms to find the sleeves.
    • Flip Method: Place the coat on the ground (inside of coat facing up) with the tag of the coat at their toes. Have your child bend over and place their arms into each sleeve, then flip the coat over their head to put it on. Video attached: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wRKDeKbAcI
    • Use hand over hand guidance to help them learn how to engage the zipper while they are watching. Use language such as “put the train in the tracks” for them to understand better. Once engaged, allow for them to zip up and down independently with as little help as needed!
  • Buttons:
    • Start with larger buttons on a buttoning strip to begin practicing.
    • Assist with the beginning steps of the process by providing hand over hand for your child. Allow them to complete the last step – pulling or pushing the button through.
    • Continue these steps and each time have your child do a little more.
  • Socks:
    • Narrate and demonstrate each step.
    • Scrunch up your child’s sock or have them scrunch it and place it over their toes.
    • If they are not able to put over their toes, put the sock over their toes for them and begin to have them pull the sock up by themselves.  
    • Use socks that are bigger and stretch easier for practice.
    • Use socks that have colored heels to provide a visual cue of which part is the top versus the bottom of the sock.

Hygiene and Toileting:

  • Look for signs of readiness for toileting needs.
  • Practice having your child climb on and off the toilet seat.
  • Encourage participation for pulling pants down or up.
  • Teach your child to wash their hands independently.
  • Use visuals to help your child learn these steps.

Brushing and Flossing Teeth:

  • Develop a daily routine for your child so they expect when they are to brush and floss their teeth (ex. Every morning after breakfast, every night after putting on pajamas, etc.).
  • Allow your child to explore and play with their toothbrush (ex. brushing pretend baby’s mouth, brushing off “dirt” from toys, etc.).
  • Provide a mirror for your child to look at while brushing their teeth.
  • Model yourself brushing your teeth at the same time your child brushes theirs.
  • Provide as much support as needed to brush their teeth thoroughly, while increasing their independence of trying on their own.

Helping with Daily Chores and Cleaning Up:

  • Encourage your child to help with cleaning up tasks.
  • Give your child responsibilities like helping set the table or placing napkins at each seat.
  • Encourage your child to clear their own plate and bring it to the sink when they are able to carry their own plate while working on their balance and coordination.
  • Encourage your child to help with washing  the dishes in the sink (while also playing in the water 😊 ).

-Kelsey Shanks, OTR/L