34 answers

Reasonable Expectations for a Six-year-old

Hello, ladies!

It seems sometimes that my oldest child (she is six) gets the brunt of my parenting mistakes. She's the "test" child, I guess. I recently discovered that she has a habit of making people do things for her that she can do herself, by convincing them she doesn't know how. This is why I'm not sure if the things I'm asking her to do really are too hard, or if she's following an old pattern. If I knew she was truly having a hard time, and not just wanting to keep me doing things for her, I'd back off.

Here is what I am wanting to see her do:
Wash her hair. (I have told her that I will help IF SHE NEEDS IT, but if she is not at least making an effort by her 7th birthday (April), then I am taking her for a haircut, since the length is obviously making it too hard for her. Unreasonable request? It's to her shoulder blades now, at her request.)

Put toothpaste on her toothbrush. (I AM expecting a few messes as part of this learning process.)

Learn how to snap or button a pair of pants. (It was hard to find elastic-waist pants for this school year, and I'm afraid it will be nearly impossible after the next growth spurt. Already, she has outgrown a pair of pants that she promised me she would learn to button, but grew out of without ever learning or wearing to school.) And button her own shirts. Currently, she'll do one button and tell me "it's too hard" to do the rest. I admit, I often do it for her, in the interest of being on time for school.

And some simple daily chores: Put her dirty clothes in the hamper. Clean up her place after mealtimes (ie, dishes in the sink; disposeables in the trash). When she gets home from school, bring her lunchbox and water bottle all the way into the kitchen instead of dumping them with her backpack. (There are occasional chores, too - like helping with laundry or unloading the dishwasher, but these are the daily ones I'm pushing right now.)

To me, these things seem like fairly simple expectations. But again, this is the oldest, so this is new territory. What really is reasonable at this age? Should I back off on these things, or is this just her old pattern of getting people to do for her? I don't want to push things that really are too hard, but I do want her to have SOME responsibility for her own well-being.

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Thank you!

I already knew I was the meanest mommy in the world, but I just wanted to make sure I wasn't mean AND unreasonable. For the pants thing - we HAVE been late to school for that one - I refuse to let her wear a pair of pants that she won't even try to put on by herself, and made her change (she is content to leave them unbuttoned, and just untuck her shirt...). I have also let her try on (super cute!) clothes, but when she refused to even ATTEMPT the snap, made her change and carry the clothes back to the rack and put them away before leaving the store.

She does have a few tasks that she does well: please don't think I don't give her ANY chores now.

But this morning, I told her (NOT for the first time) that I wasn't going to go looking for her lunchbox, and if she didn't bring it to the kitchen, she would have to buy her lunch at school (she has a little bit of money on her school account). She burst into tears - which is what made me think that maybe I was crazy. ( I DO remind her - I pick her up from school, and try to remind her every day as she's getting out of the car.) I guess the tears could be from anything - still tired; tired of being fussed at AGAIN; the threat of cafeteria food...) I had to ask, though, in case I really HAD gone too far. But, thanks for reassuring me. I'll stick with it. She's a creature of habit, so I guess we just have to create a new habit.

Featured Answers

The first child should be seasoned. And then tossed so says the late and funny Irma Bombeck.

She should be able to do,all of the things she mentioned. Ok maybe the hair washing thing is really to,hard. Start making her do these things or you will become her slave. Trust me.

3 moms found this helpful

The only thing I think may be unreasonable is the hair washing. Especially with long hair she may actually not be able to do this herself and do a good job at it - again especially if she does not like the water running over her face.
As for all the other things, don't implement all of them at once, but one or two at a time - that way it's not too overwhelming.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful

I have high expectations for my six year old. I do wash her hair because she's much more interested in mohawks and bubbles so I'm there to clean her scalp.

There are a couple of zippers I get for her when they're super tricky otherwise, its all her.

I have her cut her own food with fork and knife. Bus her own plate. Get herself entirely ready for bed.

Just last night I had her write down her morning routine and the time things should be finished so she knows when she should be doing what so we can get to school on time. If she's late for school (which she HATES) its on her.

I do 'baby her' when she needs to regress by giving her a lot of snuggles and loves, but I refuse to do things for her as it seems to set a precedence the next time she goes to do it.

Its a funky judgement call as I don't want to completely frustrate my daughter though I love the look of success on her face when she does more than she thought she could do.

2 moms found this helpful

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That all sounds completely reasonable. Maybe her fine motor skills are a little slow, but the only way they will improve is with practice (beading, sewing and lacing are good ways to strengthen those muscles.)
How many younger kids do you have? Maybe she still wants to be your "baby" for some reason.

5 moms found this helpful

I don't think your expectations are out of whack. My daughter is 1 year younger than yours and does all the listed tasks herself.

4 moms found this helpful

My son just turned 4 and can do all those things (except the toothpaste unless assisted). He needs reminders but will follow through when asked. I would stop all activity until she does each thing. "We will wait for you to clear your plate" -- that kind of thing. Then literally just wait. Don't give in and do it for her. If you don't waver, she'll eventually give up trying. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful

The first child should be seasoned. And then tossed so says the late and funny Irma Bombeck.

She should be able to do,all of the things she mentioned. Ok maybe the hair washing thing is really to,hard. Start making her do these things or you will become her slave. Trust me.

3 moms found this helpful

Those all sound like reasonable expectations for a 6-year-old, BUT, I don't think you've done anything wrong if she's not doing them yet. I'm dealing with all the same issues with my own 6-year-old (minus the buttons, b/c he's got some clinically diagnosed muscle tone issues), and we too have set a by-age-7 deadline.

So, either both our kids are both completely normal, or we've both done the same things wrong!

3 moms found this helpful

So glad to have read your post. I clearly remember being of her mindset when I was your daughter's age.

Here's an anecdote for you. Remember the monkey bars (those unsafe climbing structures you would find in the playground in the 70s and 80s)? Well my brother and I took to climbing up to the top then yelling at the top of our lungs for our mom to help us because we couldn't climb down. A well intentioned stranger intervened and gave my mother an upbraiding for callously chatting with a friend while her kids were in obvious distress. Mom walked the stranger to the monkey bars and called out to us, climb down this instant, no arguments, I've had enough of you and I've had enough of this stranger. We climbed down, heads hung low. Mom then told us to play elsewhere because she didn't want to receive more parenting help because of our antics. She then went right back to chatting with her friend.

DS who is two and change thinks its great fun to do things for himself and to "help" us. We've been encouraging him. Further, if he asks for help for something we know him to be capable of, we just respond with a "you can do it," "give it another try," "nearly there", "good trying", and when he finally gets it, "I'm so proud of you, you kept trying, and you got it done."

I don't think your expectations are unreasonable. Many below have advocated for her to have to face the natural consequences of her failure to complete these jobs. I'm all for it.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

3 moms found this helpful

I think that you've learned that your kid is a modern Tom Sawyer. ;) What we have learned about DD is that if it becomes important to HER to be independent, she'll work at it. For example, she loved her little potty and cried at the thought of it going away. I told her that 2013 was a new year and we were moving it. So I moved it, got a hook for the toilet seat (a Command hook) and used the space for some shelving I found. I told DD she could use the big potty as she was **a big girl** and suddenly the little potty was passe.

If she doesn't do the chore, she doesn't get the benefit, example - if she can't put away her Play Dough, she doesn't get more when it dries out. She knows this now, so when I say that any bendaroos that stick to Daddy's socks will get thrown out, she'll remember that and pick up her bendaroos. If she goes off without clearing her place, I make her stop whatever she is doing and go back and do it right and the amount of time it takes her to do it is her OWN time she is wasting. If she did it in the first place, she'd have more time to play.

If it is "too hard" you can refuse to buy those shirts or allow her to wear them (unless it's required as a uniform). Maybe narrow her wardrobe to the things without buttons and see if she complains about wearing those same 5 outfits. Leggings are still available.

And praise her whenever she does something right, asks for help without faking a broken arm, and remind her the benefits of being the big girl in the house. You can also make a list. When she gets home she does these three things before snack or play.

In some ways, it never ends. We got shoe bins for the closet. MY shoes are missing (probably shoved in the bin) and I still couldn't close the closet door half the time SD and SS were here. And they are far far too big to be tossing shoes all over the floor.

3 moms found this helpful

The only one I really see as possibly an issue is the hair washing. It can be difficult to do it on their own, especially with long hair. My daughter didn't, and I really didn't want her to (at that age) because she never managed to get all the shampoo out.

The rest, I see no reason you have given why she shouldn't be able to do them. The dressing issues---meh... sometimes a pair of pants will have difficult snaps or buttons (the hole is sewn slightly smaller than it probably could have been, etc)... but not EVERY shirt. Not EVERY pair of pants--you will encounter the odd one here or there. Otherwise, she should be able to dress herself.

The backpack/lunchbox/clean up her room thing: obviously she CAN do them, but at 6, it is still very likely to fall on you to remind her daily to do them. As she comes in the house you catch her before she dumps the backback and remind her to take it _____. Same with the waterbottle/lunchbox. Catch her BEFORE she dumps it somewhere else.

Clothes, get her undivided attention (preferably at the same time each day, so you develop a routine) and tell her "it is time to _______" (pick up your dirty clothes, clean up your room, etc. Kids do not just naturally take their dirty clothes off and put them in the hamper--no matter how conveniently located the hamper is. My kid will drop items directly NEXT to the hamper. You have to remind them. Or set up a sticker or rewards chart for these items.

As for dinner issues, before she is excused from the table, have her scrape her plate off and put it in the dishwasher. Don't just expect her to do these. You have to remind her at every meal for awhile... eventually she will get it. And when she DOES remember to do it before you remind her, praise her for it. :)

ETA: You know, she might have some sort of fine motor skills issues. Have you considered that? The buttons and zippers thing... if you notice other fine motor skills issues, maybe a check in with the doc might be in order. Has her teacher mentioned anything regarding her use of scissors or pencils/crayons at school?

2 moms found this helpful

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