Ready for responsibility

How do you know your child is ready for a sleepover, to get a pet or stay home alone?

If your child asks for a new responsibility, it’s a good sign he may be ready. Here’s how you can prepare for the big leap:

Step 1: What skills are needed? If you are considering leaving your child home alone, can they dial 911? Do they know your house rules?

Step 2: Identify tasks that are mini-versions of the new responsibility. If your son wants a pet that requires daily care, has he shown he can brush his teeth every day without being reminded? If not, assign him a task to prove he’s ready.

Step 3: Practice the new responsibility. Borrow a pet for a week. Cook a meal alongside your daughter.

Step 4: Check for signs of developmental readiness. Just like babies need decent head control before they can start eating solids and good balance before they can walk, older kids need to reach certain developmental milestones too. But their signs of readiness are a bit trickier. You may have to ask your pediatrician or chat with friends for help with this one.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

Get a mobile phone

The right time to get a mobile phone is when your child spends time away from adults. If you drop her off at a movie with friends or she is waiting after school to be picked up, it’s time. This typically begins sometime around 6th grade.

However, getting a phone is not a one-step process. Kids are irresponsible and phones (and service contracts) are expensive. Set the stage with a tablet or old phone connected to your home Wi-Fi and start with texting from home. They can text you while you are out of the house and text with a friend or sibling. Monitor what they are sending and coach them on appropriate messages. And use this time for them to practice keeping their device charged (and not lost).

Shave her legs

This one is easy. If she asks to shave her legs it’s time. You may have noticed your daughter’s legs are hairy, but until it bothers her, don’t mention it. There’s just no reason to make her aware of her body before she’s ready. On the other hand, if your 10 year-old is bothered by her hairy legs, go ahead and introduce her to the life-long commitment of hair-removal. And use it as an opportunity to start talking about all the body changes that are coming.

Every new task in childhood is a chance for growth.

You know the triumphant look on your toddler’s face when they dress themselves for the first time or pee on the potty? Older kids do that too. You may not see the same silly grin on your tween’s face when they stay home alone for the first time, but I guarantee they feel the same exuberant pride.

That’s why giving the go-ahead for new responsibilities is important. Trust your child to tackle new ventures. Let them fail, keep trying and succeed.  When you trust your children with responsibility they gain confidence and experience. It’s the secret to raising a successful kid.


When is the right time to start team sports? Here’s my answer!

Have a question about whether your child is ready to enter a new stage of life? Ask your pediatrician, or me!

TODAY.com Parenting Team Contributor

Author: Wendy Hunter, MD

Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, UC San Diego and pediatrician at Rady Children's Hospital, Department of Emergency Medicine.

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