I grew up in a family of five kids and my oldest sister had severe special needs requiring significant extra daily care. As a result, my three brothers and I took on a lot of personal daily tasks. During our school years, we made our own breakfast and lunches. In fact, my mom would grocery shop on Friday and in the afternoon I would confiscate my 5 lunch treats for the following week (usually hostess cupcakes) and hide them in my closet – otherwise, they may get eaten before Monday morning lunch packing. When we started 3rd grade, we were each given our very own laundry day during the week wherein we had to do our laundry. If you missed your day, you had to wait until the following week (unless like my oldest brother, you snuck items into someone else’s load, ahem). By the time I left for college, I was pretty self-sufficient when it came to self care and I attribute a lot of that to my mom who taught us how to take care of these needs ourselves early on – for her own survival, I’m sure.
These days, I try to teach many of these skills to my own girls. As a family that loves to travel, I’ve also found that these skills benefit family adventures too. Today, I’m sharing 5 ways we encourage this independence with our girls and how this influences our family travel. Let me be clear, however, we have definitely not mastered ANY of these and we shift and re-adjust as needed – which is constantly – but we have seen some of the benefits first hand when we intentionally incorporate them into our daily and weekly schedules.
1. Making Lunch
The public schools that my girls’ attend received a grant a couple years ago wherein school lunch is free. My youngest enjoys the lunch at school, but my older two do not. I announced that I would provide healthy lunch items from the grocery store, but if they chose to bring lunch they had to pack it themselves. This year, we are working on doing this the night before (instead of the morning of) – we are still a work in progress! They also enjoy going to the grocery store with us so that they can choose items to pack.
How this influences travel: This has allowed the girls to take ownership of their eating habits a bit more. They are beginning to understand that even when traveling – if there is something specific they want, they have to make sure it is available or brought. It also encourages conversations around protein, carbs, veg, fruit and sugar and how all of these things effect their energy levels throughout the day.
2. Doing Laundry
We’ve gone through a few variations of this in the last couple years – last year the older girls started with a day where they did their own laundry (similar to what I did growing up) which morphed into a day when they would push through any load that was ready to go – which we labeled on our chalk wall in the kitchen. We fell off the wagon over the summer, but are excited to get back into a routine. We are still working on getting them to put all of their laundry away when it is clean!
How this influences travel: My girls have a better idea of what’s clean and why it is or isn’t. It also allows them to work with me in terms of clothing needs. They can also figure out how most laundry machines work and they’ve begun packing their own clothes (with a list from me) when we go on trips.
3. Helping with the Dishes
Last year the older girls had a night where they emptied and loaded the dishwasher and my youngest was in charge of clearing and wiping down the table. This year, we’re adjusting a bit so that all three girls work together to do this at least 3 nights a week (instead of each having their own night). I’m excited to incorporate the girls’ into cooking more regularly into family meals at some point too.
How this influences travel: We often stay with friends and family when we travel and when I ask them to help out in the kitchen they know what to do – even if it simply means clearing their plate and offering to help with other jobs.
4. Talking to the Doctor
The last couple of times we’ve gone to the doctor for an illness or check-up, I’ve prepped the girls to answer all of the doctor’s questions themselves. As a mom, I often catch myself answering for them and I hope this teaches them to be more aware of their bodies, symptoms and also able to express those things to an adult.
How this influences travel: Similarly, when we travel, I like my girls to be able to articulate if they aren’t feeling well or how something is influencing how they feel. I also want them to be able to tell an adult what is wrong if they are in a situation where they need help and I am not there.
5. Ordering their own Food
Similar to talking to a doctor or medical professional, I encourage my girls to look at a restaurant server and order their food for themselves. Again, I sometimes (okay, a lot of times) fall into my “mom role” and order for them, but we’re working on teaching them how to articulate what they want and need.
How this influences travel: Again, I want my girls to be able to determine what they want and ask for it in a polite, thoughtful manner.
Again, we have not mastered ANY of these but we talk about them and work on them together regularly. Our goal is that in a couple years (or by the time they leave for college, ha), these will be second nature for the girls. Now if I could only teach them how to change the empty toilet paper role or hang up their wet towels after a bath, we’d be golden!
How do you encourage independence with your kids?