It isn’t easy raising children in the age of social media parenting. Just when you’re seconds away from breaking out the champagne because your preschooler has finally decided to detach himself from your leg every time you meet a new stranger, you learn on Facebook that your friend’s 5-year-old has started reading Rilke, but prefers the work of W.H. Auden.
As much as we try not to compare our children to their peers, it’s natural to wonder, or even stress about, whether our kid is on track with certain social milestones and life skills. But relying on Facebook for such information is a lot like Googling health symptoms — you’ll eventually log off convinced doomsday is near and that your child will go to college not yet knowing how to tie her shoes.
We asked Dr. Mayra Mendez, a psychotherapist and a program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center, to help clear up some confusion over what, exactly, constitutes an age-appropriate life skill for a kindergartner. Please remember: Kids aren’t robots, and they all develop at their own wonderful pace. If your child isn’t properly brushing her teeth without assistance, this is not a reason to assume her teeth are on the road to decay. But if you’ve always wondered whether most 5-year-olds scream bloody murder when you buy them a pair of sneakers that don’t close with Velcro, read on to find out more.
Uses utensils correctly — At this age, children should be able to pick up their food using a fork or spoon. Does this mean they won’t occasionally open up their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in public to lick both sides of the bread because it’s “fun?” Let’s hope so.
Eats independently and with neatness — We’re not suggesting there will never be another spilled glass of milk again, but at age 5, most kids are becoming more aware of table manners and are attempting to mimic those good habits that keep food on their plates and from falling all over the floor and themselves.
Toilet trained — There’s a lot of leeway these days when it comes to potty training, but by this age, experts agree both boys and girls should be able to use the toilet at all times and wipe themselves when they’re finished.
Wipes/blows nose — You probably got used to wiping your toddler’s runny nose every other day, but kindergartners should be trusted to seek a tissue when necessary and take care of those needs by themselves.
Dresses self — Even if they whine about it taking too long for them to put on their own socks, it’s important to let 5-year-olds feel like you believe they can dress themselves without any — or with minimal — help. If you dread this task, or if it always results in a tantrum, allow yourself an additional 10 minutes in the morning before you have to head out the door to ensure they don’t feel rushed when dressing.
Selects own clothing — It’s possible your 5-year-old only wants to wear purple. It’s even more possible he emerges from his bedroom wearing orange shorts, a green shirt and yellow socks. Let it go (or set out a few matching outfits from which he can choose ahead of time). The freedom your 5-year-old feels when making choices about his clothing is more valuable than whether he looks on point.
Uses buttons and zippers — There’s no better time than the present to let your child practice zipping and buttoning clothing. Turn it into a game or a relay race where you position items of clothing around the living room and reward her for completing all of the tasks,
Puts shoes on correctly — Best time to encourage your child to put shoes on without help? A few minutes before you have to leave to go to a birthday party, the beach or any other destination she loves.
Washes face — Model this skill by bringing your child into the bathroom when you wash your face and showing him how to use soap (and close his eyes while doing so) and then rinse with water or a washcloth.
Brushes teeth — You may still have to monitor your child every morning and night to make sure she isn’t doing a once-over with the toothbrush so she can have more TV time. But 5 is an age when a child can apply toothpaste to her brush and brush her own teeth.
Regulates water for bathing — Chances are your child has been yelling “Ouch!” when bath water is too warm for his liking since he was two. Help your 5-year-old understand his own needs by asking whether the water is too cool or warm and then helping him adjust the knobs slowly until it’s just right.
Makes friends — If your child attended daycare or pre-K, he or she probably already knows how to approach and be approached by peers. Hosting play dates at your home is a solid way to help your kid brush up on these social skills before kindergarten.
Takes turns — Sharing isn’t on any toddler’s list of fun things to do, but 5-year-olds are beginning to understand that there’s plenty of pie to go around and that sharing is a kind and gracious act that leads to better friendships.
Can call an emergency number for help — Some kindergarten teachers actually require that children memorize their parent’s phone numbers in case of an emergency. This, as well as teaching them about 911 and how to call for help, is super important because they help children at this age feel more confident and safe as they begin to spend more and more time away from home.