Set Kids Up For Success: How Autonomy Can Rock Their World

by ParentCo. June 01, 2017

surprised little girl looking at a glass of milk

Some of the best parenting research out there discusses what experts call “authoritative parenting,” part of Diana Baumrind’s theory of parenting styles. After observing parent-child interactions, she categorized parents into four quadrants based on whether they had firm limits or high expectations and how accepting or involved they were with their children. Authoritative parenting ranks high on both dimensions: warm and involved, while also holding high expectations and firm limits. Authoritative parenting is associated with just about every positive child outcome, from academic achievement to social skills to fewer behavior problems.  An often minimized aspect of Baumrind’s theory is a third dimension called appropriate autonomy granting. Authoritative parents allow and support their children’s independence. They set them up to succeed in these independent tasks. This is an exceptionally important addition given that children develop self-esteem, grit, and a sense of responsibility from completing important work. Autonomy granting includes things like chores and choice over clothes, routine and after-school activities. The three components of authoritative parenting (warm/involved, firm limits/high expectations, and appropriate autonomy granting) have become associated with academic achievement, fewer behavior problems, and psychological health. Chores serve as an excellent way for children to achieve the positive outcomes associated with autonomy granting. Unfortunately, research suggests that fewer families are including chores as a part of their regular routine. That’s a shame since chores have been associated with engagement in school, academic achievement, positive mental health in adulthood, and later career success.

LulaKids partnered with Parent Co. because they believe every parent could use a helping hand- even when those hands are tiny.

Ideas to integrate autonomy and chores into your child’s day

What’s developmentally appropriate for the adult

Many articles suggest chores by age for children, based on their developmental capabilities. While guidelines for age-appropriate chores are good for generating ideas, they do not take into account your individual child and family situation. This approach suggests some ground rules for adults in encouraging children’s independence. Meeting your child where they are. The issue with age-specific chore charts is that every child is different. They have different interests and different capabilities (and that’s a good thing). Developmental milestones are no longer given an associated age, but rather an estimated age range. Consider the following mantra: “I won’t do anything for you that you can do yourself.” Perhaps one five-year-old can tie her shoes, while another cannot get his buttons buttoned. It makes sense to adjust your expectations and provide opportunities for autonomy where the child can succeed.

The importance of choice

When assigning responsibilities, children (and adults!) respond well to having some options and ownership over their tasks. Provide your children some choice. My five-year-old daughter and I create a chore chart together. She hates doing the laundry (and whines the whole time) but loves emptying the dishwasher (and sings the whole time). Allowing her to choose makes life better for all of us.

Slow down and make time

One of the biggest obstacles to allowing children to take care of themselves or some household chores is time. Most families rush out the door in the morning (eliminating the opportunity for self-dressing) or rush to bedtime in the evening (eliminating the opportunity for children to complete evening chores). Parents can allow the time and space for these important activities of childhood. Streamline your morning process if possible. Simplify your evening routine where you can. Build in extra time for children to take care of themselves and the home.

Embrace imperfection

Your children will not always match. Your dishes will likely occasionally (read: often) break. Learning lies in the imperfections. Teach your child how to clean up the broken glass safely. Accept that your child has a different fashion sense than you. It will go slow, and it will go wrong. Breath in and repeat: My child is learning something here.

Modify your materials for success

Maria Montessori believed that much of the frustration of childhood stems from dealing with a world that was not designed with a child in mind. With some modification, your child may be capable of many more tasks. A child-sized, cordless vacuum may give you the cleanest carpets you have ever had. A well-placed step stool can make the dishes much more inviting. LulaClips and LulaBlocs can make buckling up in the car-friendly for small hands.  

Examples in action

To follow my five guidelines for granting autonomy to your little ones, here are five examples to get you brainstorming. Remember to involve your child in the process. They may have some great ideas for how they can take more responsibility for themselves.

Getting dressed

By age three, most children are capable of participating in the dressing process. By age six, most children are capable of dressing themselves from head to toe. By age eight, most children will be capable of washing and folding their clothes. Getting dressed is an excellent “chore” because it allows for ownership of self, personal expression, and typically will free up some time for the parent on busy mornings. Make sure clothes are stored in a way that your child can easily access them. Emphasize choice as much as you can. Children are not restrained by the rules of fashion, and that’s a good thing. Streamline other parts of the morning routine so you can give your children the extra time they need to complete this task independently. 

Safely getting in the car

By age two, most children are capable of climbing into their own seat. By age five, most children can buckle themselves securely and safely. By age six, most children will be capable of assisting siblings in the process. This “chore” allows children to feel incredibly accomplished. The first time they properly secure that five-point harness, their smile will light up the car. It will also allow the parent more time to load the car. Make time for this chore by getting the kids out to the car first and then loading everything while you give them the space to accomplish their task. You can modify the task to make it more child-friendly by installing LulaClips or Lulablocs in your car. As with all new tasks, your child will be successful some days and struggle on others. Emphasize that some difficulty is part of the learning process. Praise their efforts (not the outcomes) to encourage them to keep working when it feels challenging. Lend a hand when they need it. 


By nine months of age, most children are capable of participating in feeding themselves. By age two to three, children are fully capable self-feeders. By age five, children can set and clear the table. By age six, many children will be capable of making a simple meal or packing their lunch. The incredible bonus of giving your child more autonomy during the eating process is that they will eat better. Mealtime battles will decrease as your child participates more in preparing meals and mealtime. You can make this task easier by playing sous-chef. Make sure your child can access everything they may need to feed themselves. Create a snack center in a lower refrigerator drawer or shelf. Do the same thing in the pantry. Create a shelf that includes everything needed for packing lunches. A little prep ahead of time will reduce frustration and increase the chances your child will succeed.

Doing laundry

By age two, most children can help you stuff the washing machine and start it. By age four, they can help sort and fold laundry. By age six, kids can put away all their clothes. By age eight, they can handle this task from start to finish. Laundry can be divided into two categories: before and after kids. Before kids, you had a regular day and routine. After kids, it became a never-ending process. Let your kids help you out. As with all other tasks, modify the space to allow your children independence. Select a bottle of detergent they can safely handle. Put a step stool in the right place. Accept imperfection and praise their efforts.

Cleaning up

By age one, most children are capable of cleaning up. In fact, dump and clean is a game for them, and they will enjoy it. Cleaning up after themselves will become a good habit before your child understands what a “chore” is. Help your kids out by utilizing small bins that can be moved around the room, making it easier for children to fill up. You can encourage this activity by making sure it happens regularly (after each activity) so they don’t feel overwhelmed by cleaning an entire room.

It could be the most important thing you do as a parent

Childhood chores are associated with academic achievement and mental health. While making the time and space for your kids to complete activities can be challenging at first, remind yourself that these are not just chores. They are important life lessons. You will foster double the self-esteem and resilience with chores that you could with fancy music lessons or expensive sports participation (though these activities are good for other reasons). Plus, there is an immediate payoff: chores ease your load as a parent.

LulaKids partnered with Parent Co. because they believe every parent could use a helping hand- even when those hands are tiny.



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