When children are developing independence, one of the first skills they learn is how to care for themselves. Self-care is the child’s ability to take responsibility for their own well-being. It includes skills ranging from hygiene, toileting, dressing oneself, feeding oneself, and also more complicated self-care tasks like taking medication, wound management if applicable.
For your child to develop independence in daily life, we often start with developing some self-care skills.
What Are Self Care Skills?
Self-care skills are the things we do to look after ourselves, like hygiene and toileting. They include bathing and showering, brushing teeth, shaving or putting on make-up, dressing and undressing, eating and drinking, using the toilet (peeing/pooing), and going to sleep at night.
In Occupational Therapy, we call these activities of daily living (ADLs). ADLs are the self-care skills that most of us take for granted. However, it is important to remember that not all children learn these skills at the same time or in the same way, so they may need some help with some ADLs more than others.
What are self-care activities for kids?
Self care is an overarching term. Younger children, often need help from adults to develop these skills. However, as they become more independent and your child develops healthy self care habits, they can start doing some of these activities by themselves. We see all the time that good self care habits lead to a more positive life.
Self care activities for kids include toileting, showering, dressing, eating, and sleeping. The developmental milestones and expectations for children will differ depending on the child’s age.
Toileting in Children
Toileting is an important self-care activity. Although children under 6 years old learn to be toilet trained, it is important for them to develop the skills to be able to do this independently.
For a child to be successful in toilet training, they need to:
- Able to recognize when they need to go to the toilet
- Pull up and down pants
- Wipe their own bottoms cleanly
- Remember to wash their hands
Bathing and Showering in Children
Maintaining regular hygiene practices like bathing and showering daily is an important skill. Not being able to do this skill can impact the rest of the child’s daily life, including their ability to make friends and socialize.
Some children may dislike having their hair washed or brushed. This is also an important component of self-care.
For a child to be successful in bathing and showering, they should be able to:
- Engage in regular bathing or showering practices without fuss
- Wash their own hair
- Wash all parts of their body without reminders
- Able to dry their body
Dressing and Undressing in Children
Being able to dress and undress is another important skill. For some children, this can be a difficult task due to fine motor difficulties. Fine motor issues are the smaller movements needed for dressing or undressing that require hand-eye coordination, like holding buttons/snaps between fingers, pulling up zips, etc.
Children with gross motor difficulties may also have trouble balancing on one foot while they put their leg through their pants or lack of body awareness to put their arms and legs through the clothes.
Eating in Children
Self-feeding is an important skill to develop. For children to be successful in eating, they should:
- Eat a variety of food, including to eat nutritious foods
- Be able to feed themselves using cutlery
- Eat foods with different textures and tastes
Sometimes, children need help with this task because they need extra support due to fine motor difficulties, sensory difficulties, or oral motor delays.
An Occupational Therapist can help children develop fine motor skills and if your child has sensory processing issues. They can teach your child how to use cutlery and develop increase a variety of food.
If your child has oral motor delays or is at risk of choking on their food, they should get additional help from a Speech Pathologist who can help with developing safer feeding options for your child.
Sleeping in Children
Sleeping through the night is an important part of self-care. Many children, may require parent assistance to fall asleep initially due to bedtime struggles. As they grow older, these issues should resolve themselves.
Children need about 10-12 hours of sleep each night for optimum daytime behavior and alertness levels. This can vary for children of different ages, but getting enough sleep at a young age is very important.
Some children struggle with having their sleep routines disrupted. If your child has difficulty falling or staying asleep at night, talk with their health care provider who can test them for medical conditions such as reflux and other issues that may be keeping your child awake or disrupting their sleep cycle during the nighttime hours.
Self Care Skills In Older Children
As your child develops these skills, your child can move on to self-care skills with more responsibility. These may include:
- Doing their own hair
- Doing their make-up
- Cutting their fingernails
- Managing small wounds like scratches and insect bites
- Taking medication if needed
- Doing household chores like dishes and laundry
Health Professions that assist with Self Care
Self care skills require a range of skills, including fine and gross motor skills, oral motor skills, communication, understanding of the importance of these skills, and knowing what to do.
Children who have anxiety or negative past experiences may benefit from having some support from a psychologist to overcome these fears.
An Occupational Therapist is a professional who assesses your child’s skills with daily tasks and helps them develop or improve these skills. They can help children with any developmental delays in your child and help them develop skills with any difficulties they have.
Speech Pathologists can help children who have trouble with their communication skills or eating skills. Some children have trouble with eating, in particular, chewing and swallowing. Speech Pathologists can provide assessment and treatment around these concerns.
Some older children may also benefit from having a social worker to build their self-confidence. Some teenagers may benefit from developing this skill so they are able to do it without their parent’s help, which can promote more independence.
Children who have significant motor delays or have mobility issues may benefit from support from a Physiotherapist. A physiotherapist can help the individual develop the strength and skills to move between different rooms.
How can Occupational Therapists help with self-care?
Occupational Therapists can teach children how to develop their self-care skills. They can provide suggestions for ways that you can help your child with specific tasks if they need extra support or have difficulty with certain tasks.
Occupational Therapists can help children develop all these self-care skills, especially if your child is having trouble with fine motor, gross motor, difficulty engaging in routines, sensory issues, and learning new tasks. Developing these self care skills in young children leads to healthy habits as they grow up.
Occupational Therapists can also help children diagnosed with conditions such as
These children might need additional support due to their medical needs. Occupational therapists can offer strategies that parents can use at home to practice these skills on a daily basis to develop the best self care habits possible.
When To Be Concerned About Lack of Self Care Skills
Like with all skills, it takes time for children to learn self care skills and develop healthy habits associated to self care activites. However, if you think your child is developing these skills a lot slower compared to children around the same age, it may be worth talking to your doctor about it.
Similarly, if your child was able to do these skills before but now does not want to do these skills or has lost motivation to do these activities, it is also very important to talk to your doctor about these concerns.
There are many children who have problems with self-care skills. Most of the time this is because kids find it difficult to engage in these activities without their parent’s help. It is important to try instilling self care habits from a young age.
Occupational therapists can help your child develop all these different self-care skills to help them become more independent and feel confident about themselves, throughout their life. The earlier children practice self care tips in family life, even for a few moments per day, the more benefit they’ll have to their mental and physical health as older children and indeed as adults.
If you want to know more about how Occupational therapists can help your child with practical skills like self-care strategy, please contact us today.