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Your guide to age-appropriate responsibilities for toddlers to teens

When is your child old enough to choose their own clothes, make their own friends or clean their own messes? You might be surprised.

age appropriate responsibilities

Kids need opportunities to contribute to the common good. They need this for their self-esteem and for their lives to have meaning.

Children don't want just to be doted on. They need, like the rest of us, to feel like they matter to the world—like their lives make a positive contribution.

All children contribute in some way—find those ways in your child and comment on them, even if it is just noticing when she is kind to her little brother or that you enjoy how she's always singing. Whatever behaviors you acknowledge will grow. As your children get older, their contributions should increase appropriately, both within and outside the household.

Kids need to grow into two kinds of responsibilities: their own self-care, and contributing to the family welfare.


Research indicates that kids who help around the house are also more likely to offer help in other situations than kids who simply participate in their own self-care.

But you can't expect your child to develop a helpful attitude overnight. It helps to steadily increase responsibility in age appropriate ways.

Invite toddlers to put napkins on the table, ask three-year-olds to set places. Four-year-olds can match socks, and five-year-olds can help you groom the dog. Six-year-olds are ready to clear the table, seven-year-olds to water plants, and eight-year-olds to fold laundry.

Studies show that people who take responsibility in any given situation are people who see themselves as willing to be different and stand out. That's the kind of kid you want to raise.

Age-appropriate responsibilities

So, what's age-appropriate? The list below will give you a frame of reference, but you'll need to adapt it to your own child and your family circumstances.

Remember to slowly build the degree of freedom and responsibility you offer your child, giving them as much help as they need to handle each level until they master it comfortably.

(Note: Each section covers a number of years; children of the lowest ages of that range are just beginning to handle the listed items.)

Age-appropriate responsibilities for toddlers

age appropriate responsibilities for toddlers

• Let toddlers be responsible for their own bodies, within the limits of safety and decency.

• Cleaning up their own messes. "That's ok. Get the paper towels off the counter and let's clean up that milk. We always clean up our own messes"

• What to wear, within the limits of appropriate season, safety, and decency

• Amount of food to eat—you provide the selection, they decide how much

• Getting food into their mouths, unless they ask for your help

What book to read, even if you're reading to them

• What toys to play with

What toys to share, with the others getting put away before friends arrive

• When to use the potty—you can ask, "Do you need to use the potty before we leave the house?" but they need to check in with their own body and get to know its signals, unless you want to be in charge of their toileting for years to come.

Age-appropriate responsibilities for preschoolers (ages 3 to 5)

All of the above, plus:

• Their own clothes—they choose them, within your parameters, and maintain them by keeping them in reasonably neat piles by category

• Their own rooms, within reasonable neatness parameters—they decide what they want on the walls, within reasonable limits. (Parents will need to help them organize their stuff and work with them to clean up.)

• How much to eat

• What to eat, within appropriate nutritional guidelines—this only works if you limit accessibility of junk food. (It does mean you have to decide what to do when they don't like what you've fixed for dinner. In our house, they can get a yogurt if they want.)

• Who to play with and when

• Whether to attend social events to which she is invited, excluding mandatory family events

• Who is allowed in their room

Age-appropriate responsibilities for school-aged children (ages 6 to 9)

All of the above, plus:

• How to wear their hair, within appropriate grooming standards

• Clearing their place from the table

• Simple chores around the house

• How to spend their allowance

• Completing their homework

• Getting their school backpack ready the night before

• How to spend their time, after basic responsibilities like homework are accomplished

• Whether to play an instrument or take a class

• What sport or physical activity to engage in. (Given the research on this, physical activity in our house is non-negotiable, but they get to choose the type.)

• Fixing simple food for themselves for snacks and lunch

• Helping make the family contributions for the class bake sale and other events

Age-appropriate responsibilities for preteens + 'tweens (ages 10 to 12)

All of the above, plus:

• Packing their school lunch

• Self-grooming: nails, hair, etc.

• Walking with a friend from one point to another within the neighborhood as long as a parent always knows where they are. (This is the first reason that a child needs a cell phone.)

• Staying alone in the house, with certain rules about who can be with them

Age-appropriate responsibilities for early adolescents (ages 13 to 15)

All of the above, plus:

• Getting themselves up in the morning, though you may need to be the backup plan

• Doing their own laundry, eliminating you from feeling like the maid when they suddenly need a certain item

• Temporary changes in appearance—permanent tattoos are out in my family till they're eighteen, but temporary ones are their choice. (Piercings are discussed on an as-requested basis, and are discouraged because of the risk of infection and permanent scarring.)

• Riding the bus and subway

• Going to movies with friends

• Earning spending money by babysitting or other jobs

• Budgeting their own spending

These lists focus on your child's span of control, rather than on tasks you want them to do.

There's a reason for that.

When you focus on a list of tasks your child "should" do, you end up creating power struggles. "By now you should be able to clean up your own toys!"

If instead, you focus on helping your child take charge of his life, and support him as necessary to learn each new skill, your child wants to step into each new responsibility. Instead of "holding him responsible," he becomes motivated to take responsibility for himself. It's a subtle shift, but it makes all the difference in the world.

[This piece was originally published October 2017.]

14 toys that will keep your kids entertained inside *and* outside

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With fall in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in outside-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Detective set

Plan Toys detective set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

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A Montessori-inspired gift guide—for newborns to 6-year-olds

There are plenty of Montessori-friendly toys that are beautiful and engaging, but also appeal to children's developmental needs.

With so many toys out there, it can be hard to find intentional gifts for our children that are both fun and meaningful. Using a Montessori approach to your shopping doesn't mean your choices need to be academic. There are plenty of Montessori-friendly toys that are beautiful and engaging, but also appeal to children's developmental needs.

Montessori toys are usually made from natural materials, non-electronic and foster independent play, creativity and concentration. Montessori materials are simple and somewhat minimalist in general, and this is especially true for infants and young toddlers. The world is so stimulating for these little ones already, that simple toys made of natural materials spark the child's curiosity without being overwhelming.

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Mama, all I see is you

A love letter from your baby.

Mama,

I can't see past you right now, I'm so small and everything's a little blurry.

All I see is you.

When you feel alone, like the walls are closing in, remember I'm here too. I know your world has changed and the days feel a little lonely. But they aren't lonely for me.

You are my everything.

When you feel like you don't know what you're doing, you're making it look easy to me. Even though we're still getting to know each other, you know me better than anyone.

I trust you.

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