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Independence with self-care

When our lovely little children are born into the world, they depend on us for their every need. We watch them grow and eventually they are able to do more and more for themselves. They learn to hold their bottles, sit up, reach for things they want, and hold utensils for feeding. Next, we watch them begin to move around their environment by scooting, crawling, and too soon sometimes walking. Walking opens up an entirely new world to your toddlers, full of opportunities to be independent.

It is not until those preschool years that we usually see children wanting to do more for themselves. They might object to the clothes you pick out for them, want to brush their own teeth, or go to the bathroom without help from you. This new found journey for independence can be unnerving for parents, but is essential for personal and social development.

Around the ages of three or four, most self-care skills become apparent, but becoming an expert at them may take much longer. If your child has a disability, these milestones may take much longer.


7 months Finger feeds dry cereal
9 months Feeds self cracker using whole hand
2-2 ½  years Scoops food using spoon with spilling
2-2 ½  years Spears and shovels food using fork with some spilling
4 years Holds spoon appropriately with fingers
5-5 ½ years Uses knife to cut soft foods and spread


1 ½ -2 years Removes socks or unties shoes
2-2 ½  years Removes pants with elastic waists and pulls over tops

Removes unfastened coat

3 years Undresses self


3-3 ½  years Puts on coat, shoes (can be wrong feet), socks, pullover garments, pulls up pants
4 years Distinguishes front/back and clothes that are inside out, orients clothing and puts clothing on
7 years Discriminates inside and outside of clothing and can fix if wrong


1 year Unsnaps front snaps
2-2 ½  years Unzips and zips a non-separating sipper
3 years Unbuttons front buttons
3 ½  years Unzips front opening zipper


3 ½  years Buttons small buttons
3 ½ -4 years Snaps most snaps-front
4 ½  years Zips front, separating zipper
5 ½ -6 years Zips, unzips, hooks, unhooks separating zipper
6-6 1/2 years Ties bows on shoes


2-2 ½  years Wipes nose on request
3 ½ -4 years Completes hand washing routine
4 ½ -5 years Brushes teeth
5 ½ -6 years Manages all aspects of toileting
6-6 ½ years Blows and wipes nose by self

Adapted from Hand Function and the Child:  Foundations for Remediation, by A. Henderson & C. Pehoski (Eds.), “Selfcare and hand skills,” pp.  164-183.

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  1. September 28, 2010 |
  2. September 28, 2010 |