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My 3-year-old does these 7 tasks for himself—because they empower him

Despite any negativity you hear—raising a three-year-old is awesome! With my son, age two seemed to be the exciting year of discovery. But as he now grows into a real life threenager before my very eyes it’s amazing to witness him connecting things, making sense of things and most of all questioning things—all in the spirit of understanding the world better. It’s truly remarkable.


With this newfound sense of self, comes responsibility and independence—two things I am trying to teach my son every day.

Here are seven things my husband and I have started to expect him (and show him) to do himself. Some tasks are done better than others...but we’re getting there!

1. Clean up time!—picking up after himself

If you have a toddler at home you can relate to the tornado that they somehow create in a matter of seconds. I wish I could do anything as fast as he can create a mess.

Our new rule? After my son is done playing, before he moves on to the next toy, I ask him to put everything away. I want to show him we all contribute to the responsibilities of the household—encouraging him now sets the foundation for him to be helpful, and eventually do chores, as he gets older.

The same goes for after dinner. When he’s done eating he puts his silverware in the dishwasher and puts his dish in the sink. The other day he put his own laundry away—in the correct drawers!—and I basically passed out. ?

2. No whining please—use your big boy words

Whining has become huge in our household, and so I feel like I say “use your words” 100 times a day. Since explaining that it’s hard for Mommy and Daddy to understand whining, our son is doing a great job with communicating his feelings and why he’s upset or frustrated.

As a parent, I don’t want to put words in his mouth or guess why he’s upset. When he uses his words to tell me how he’s feeling I make sure to praise him specifically and effectively— “Thank you my sweet boy! This helps mama so much! Now I can help you solve the problem because I understand what’s bothering you.” ?

3. Setting a good foundation—helping him understand the basics

By this age, my son can say his full name and spell his first name. Our last name is kind of impossible, so I’m giving him a pass on that for another year or so.

He can also recognize and recite numbers 1-20 and letters A-Z. Working on these things together makes me feel like I’m helping to set a strong learning foundation for him and helps him feel confident in his abilities. As we build towards “sight words,” and eventually reading, these are key pillars that will give him the confidence to get there. It still boggles my mind that shortly he will be able to read to me! ?

4. Playing alone—even if it’s for 10 minutes

Sometimes I have to take a call or prep dinner or use the bathroom, without someone yelling, “Mommy I’m lonely!” Don’t get me wrong, I include him in basically everything—including cooking dinner (even though that tends to make things much slower and messier)...but it’s fun, and something we can do together.

Playing alone is a skill he needs to have and develop—for everyone’s sake! I have also seen his imagination soar because of this. He “reads” books to his stuffed animals, cooks delicious meals in his own kitchen and does landscaping or construction in the living room. It’s magical to watch. ?

5. Basic hygiene skills—even when it makes more of a mess

Things like washing his own hands, brushing his own teeth and washing himself in the tub are all skills he’s currently mastering. In all honesty, these things typically require an additional once over by Mommy or Daddy. BUT—he is learning and gaining a sense of empowerment that he is in charge of his own body and can do these things for himself.

Getting undressed and going to the bathroom by himself are other big tasks we’re working on. These scenarios are where lots of patience and Clorox wipes save the day! But, we are working on it, together. ?

6. Sharing is caring—unless you’re a three-year-old

Let’s start by saying that sharing is a necessary life skill. However, have you ever tried explaining this to a three-year-old? At this age he knows he should share, but isn’t so keen on the idea. He is good with sharing with family, without a reminder—which is great! What we need to work on is when someone comes into our house and wants to play with his toys.

Enter a territory war. In my heart of hearts I can understand the struggle through his big hazel eyes. So of all of the do-by-yourself skills, this is the one that we will work towards mastering—before he turns four. ?

7. Plain and simple—must have manners

This seems to be a lost art in today’s society. How many times have you held the door for someone and they just walk right past without saying a simple “thank you”? These things tend to get under my skin.

Phrases like, “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” or “Please may I” really go a long way to me. Recently in a restaurant after my son got his grilled cheese, he said, “Thank you very much” and the waiter almost fell over. It was a very proud mama moment, I must say.

His newest line is, “Look! Mommy, I’m holding the door for this lady like a gentleman.” Cue heart explosion! ?

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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