Module 4: Promoting Mental Health in Early Childhood

Putting on SocksSelf-Care

Doing Things for Themselves

Acquiring self-care skills is a major area of mastery that symbolizes children’s growing independence and self-control.

Questions to Ask

  • Tell me about the things he can do for himself.
  • How is your child doing with feeding himself during meals and snacks?
  • Does your child wash his hands before eating and after toileting?
  • How does he help with getting dressed?
  • Do you help him brush his teeth? How is that going?

Provider Tips

  • If the child has fine motor delays or sensory deficits, suggest accommodations, such as loose-fitting clothing, angled spoons, and other adaptive equipment, so that he can maximally care for himself. Occupational therapists can suggest specific equipment and teach the child to use it.
  • Consider the possibility that temper tantrums during self-care could indicate that the child feels too much pressure or restriction or that he may have a weakness in motor skills that needs to be evaluated.
  • Using the guidance listed below, encourage parents to help their child learn how to do things for himself.

Guidance for Parents

  • Your child feels good when he can do things for himself. Encourage him to make choices and do things without help as much as possible. He might need extra time to do it, so be patient with him. Let him try to do things such as brushing his teeth, washing his hands, and choosing clothing to put on.
  • He may make mistakes along the way, but in time he will learn how to things on his own. Praise him for taking even small steps toward self-care. Give him help when he needs it, and don’t criticize him. Expect and accept that there will be times when he’ll need more help, especially at times of stress or change.
  • Young children love to try to do the same things their parents are doing. Let your child help with simple household chores such as setting the table, picking up toys, putting clothes in the hamper, or watering plants. This will make him feel good about himself and add to his sense of being able to do things without help.
Resources for Providers

Area of Interest: Parents Who Limit Independence in Self-Care more information

Parents who are having trouble allowing their child to mature may be underestimating the child’s abilities. Parenting groups or classes, play groups that parents attend, and other opportunities to talk with parents of children of similar age can help parents develop realistic goals. Discuss the risk of oppositional behavior resulting from parental interference in self-care.

Resources for Providers

Sattler JM. 2001. Assessment of Children: Cognitive Applications (4th ed.). San Diego, CA: J. M. Sattler.

Sparrow SS, Balla DA, Cicchetti DV. 1984. Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.


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