Sending toddlers to the supermarket: How young can independent kids be?
"Old Enough" is a reality show in Japan featured on Netflix where camera crews follow kids, some as young as 2 years old, as they go out alone to run errands for the very first time.
While this may be a bit extreme in American culture, it's still a good idea to teach responsibility at a young age, said Dr. Joe Galasso, a clinical psychologist at Baker Street Behavioral Health in Paramus.
He said teaching autonomy is the cornerstone of success and resilience for kids moving forward in their lives. The goal is to make them feel good about themselves.
From an early age, parents need to teach them what are the proper skills that they need to acquire to feel successful and to learn that sense of independence, Galasso said.
"We teach that by learning chores, we teach that by learning these little skills to become independent as toddlers, and then as they become older, they become more and more independent as we give them free rein to do things more independently outside of our view," he said.
Parents are unconsciously teaching toddlers, daily, skills that build upon independent skills automatically in little games that teach them to match colors, collect bean bags, fetch things from another room, or play independently with other children.
"All those things, as we start to put those skills together become the larger independent skills," Galasso said.
As they get older, these little chores start to translate and generalize to real life.
As far as when a child should be allowed to go to school alone or go to a store alone, Galasso said there is no rule of thumb. That's because there are many individualized factors to consider, such as a child's personality, temperament, and level of tolerance to being away from their parents might be.
Each child is different. So, one 13-year-old might be able to handle going down to the corner store to pick up a loaf of bread and bring it home while another may not feel comfortable or have that level of maturity.
But teaching responsibility at a young age can be such a positive experience. "Everybody likes to have a job. That structure, that routine, makes us feel good when we accomplish a task. When we recognize that we've acquired a new skill, and we've mastered our environment, we feel good about that. It doesn't matter what age we are," Galasso said.
It's also important to shed some light on resilience, he added. The more opportunities kids are given to feel good about themselves, the more they are going to be able to recover more quickly from when they don't feel good about themselves.
While he is not saying it's a good idea to have children run amok in the community, like in the Netflix show, Galasso said a great takeaway from it is to give children opportunities to feel good about themselves through little chores and jobs. Structure and routine are great for kids, even for toddlers.
Jen Ursillo is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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