Cincinnati Family Magazine

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May 25, 2024

What’s the Right Age To…?

When should you teach your child to tie his shoes or give him an allowance or a pet? We quizzed the experts for the most up-to-date advice.


fea_young-girl.pngLike many parents, we always want to do what’s best for our kids. But, certain topics arise as they get older that we sometimes don’t know how to handle. Here’s help:

When to …

Stop Using a Highchair

Feeding a toddler in a highchair is convenient – it keeps your child in one place and helps contain the mess. Generally between 2 – 3 years old a child will become proficient in safely climbing in and out of a regular chair. Your child can stop using a highchair when she can safely climb out of it.
– Mark Krakauer, M.D., a pediatrician at St. Thomas Medical Group and board certified in pediatrics and internal medicine.

Teach a Child to Tie His Shoes

Most children have the manual dexterity to tie their shoes by age 5. But don’t give up and resort to Velcro if your child doesn’t catch on quickly; it won’t help him master the skill. Just keep practicing. There are even books available that have shoelaces in them, along with step-by-step lessons.
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Move a Child to a Big-Kid Bed

Not until you absolutely have to! A crib is the best way to contain a very active toddler during the quiet times of sleep and naps. Most toddlers make this move sometime between age 18 months and 3 years. There is no age limit for this transition, but parental guidance is required! A good indicator is when your child repeatedly expresses a desire to move into a bed.
– Jeremy Friedman, M.D., author of The Toddler Care Book (Robert Rose; $29.95)

Teach Kids to Floss

According to the American Dental Association, children are usually ready to floss on their own by age 8. If a child can tie his shoes, he may have the manual dexterity to floss, too. Each child is different, and supervision is key. But don’t ignore flossing until your child can do it himself. Once his teeth come in close together, it’s time to do the flossing for him.
– Kimberly Harms, D.D.S., a consumer advisor for the American Dental Association

Let a Child Bathe Alone

Deciding whether to let a child bathe by himself depends not only on his physical skills but on his good judgment as well. Even if your 4-year-old is a terrific swimmer, you’d never leave him alone in a pool. Of course, there’s less water in a tub, but a child can drown in a very small amount. A bathing child should have an adult in the room with him until he is old enough to swim and climb out of the tub by himself. Some recommend that the child not bathe alone until he is old enough to use a shower, at around age 5.
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Enroll a Child in Piano Lessons

Children usually have the attention span needed for piano lessons by kindergarten. Children as young as 2 or 3 may enjoy starting more loosely structured music classes. The success of these programs has as much to do with the classes and teacher as it does with your child. A 3-year-old’s instruction should be more focused on experimentation and exploration, whereas a 10-year-old’s lessons may be more structured. One approach is to offer your child a wide range of activity options, such as sports, music and visual arts, and then let him decide what is appealing. If the child perceives the activity as imposed on them by the parent, it is more likely to fail!
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Let Children Choose Their Own Clothes

Children may be involved in the process as soon as they show interest. Many toddlers already show preferences in their wardrobes! Ultimately, parents have to make the final call when it comes to which clothing is appropriate for the weather or for a social occasion.
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Let Your Child Have a Sleepover

Many kids can’t manage a night away from home until they’re well into their grade-school years. Others are doing it at 4 and 5 without incident. Your child might be ready for a trial run if he’s mentioned it several times, has practiced at a relative’s house, can eat in various places and doesn’t have a lot of trouble settling down in the evening. Often success depends on luck – the kids can have a fight just before bed, the room can be too dark, anything can happen – but preparation helps.
– Ron Taffel, Ph.D., author of Nurturing Good Children Now (St. Martin’s Press; $15.95)

Give Kids an Allowance

The sooner kids learn how to handle money, the better. Usually, when children enter elementary school, they start to want their own spending money. So, a lot of parents begin giving very small amounts as early as first grade. A dollar a week with gradual increases is typical; whatever you decide, it’s important to be consistent. Also, be sure to lay down some ground rules, such as how much they’ll get and when, what they can and can’t buy, and whether you expect them to save part of the money. Around sixth grade, you might try giving your child a month’s allowance up front rather than on a weekly basis. That way, he can learn to handle a larger amount of money and plan ahead – a lesson that will help him handle finances as an adult.
– Nan Mead, director of communications for the National Endowment for Financial Education

Expect a Child to Be Responsible for a Pet

Many experts feel that age 3 is the earliest age for a child to have a pet, because a child this age understands “No, don’t pull the kitty’s tail.” Regarding pet care, there are age-appropriate tasks in which a child can participate, such as measuring out the dog’s food or choosing a toy. That said, children should never be primarily responsible for a pet. They’re too young to understand the long-term responsibilities (like having to walk the dog every day) and may neglect their duties, especially once they learn that some of it is hard work and not always fun. Even the most responsible teen can lose interest. Parents need to understand that they are getting a pet for the lifetime of the animal – and the parent is always going to bear the brunt of the responsibility.
– Nancy Peterson of the Humane Society of the United States

Let Kids Cross the Street Alone

Pedestrian injury is the second-leading cause of accidental death among children ages 5 – 14. Children 10 and younger should never cross the street alone. Kids are impulsive and have difficulty judging speed, spatial relations and distance. Sharp hearing and eyesight, good depth perception and proper scanning ability all develop gradually and do not fully mature until at least age 10.
– Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., program director for the National SAFE Kids Campaign

Let Kids Stay Home Alone

The child must be comfortable with the arrangement, know basic safety information such as who to call in an emergency and how to reach a parent or other trustworthy adult if needed. Additionally, the child must know “common sense” as to not answer the door for a stranger. Tennessee law dictates no legal age for children to stay home alone, but obviously, children younger than 10 should not be left without supervision at any time.
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Talk to a Child About Death

By school age, most children understand that death is an irreversible event. It is appropriate to answer their questions directly and honestly. Children should not be shielded from this topic, and invariably, the topic arises through the death of a loved one or pet, or indirectly through a loved one of an acquaintance. This presents an opportunity to communicate with your child openly and directly about death. It’s OK for a child to see his parents express emotions openly, as this will make it easier for the child to do the same.
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Explain a Period to Your Daughter

As with most topics, be honest, open and direct with your child. When you foster this type of relationship with your daughter, it makes you accessible as a source of information. Better she get information from you than other sources such as TV, the Internet or her young friends who may be misinformed. With open channels of communication, you are likely to be asked about this topic well before your daughter has her first period. Generally, girls start to show signs of breast development before their first period. If your daughter is starting to develop and you have not had the discussion yet, then it is time to have the talk!
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Talk to Your Son About Puberty

If you foster an open dialogue with your son, you will find that rather than having to have “the talk” you may have several small “talks” over time, which may be much more painless. The details of your discussion will depend on the level of maturity of your child. For example, to a 5-year-old you may speak generally about growth spurts and getting bigger, but to an 11-year-old you might answer more specific questions about facial and body hair.
– Mark Krakauer, M.D.

Sharlene K. Johnson is a freelance writer.

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