How-To Teach Hygiene & Other Personal-Care Tasks

When teaching our kids how to be self-sufficient in taking care of themselves, it can be hard to know how to handle the roadblocks that come up in their behavior along the way. There will be times when they get picky and want a different flavored toothpaste or blatantly refuse to step foot in the bath and scream in the hopes that you will cave so they can remain covered in dirt and go off to bed at their leisure. We have a few tips that may ease this conversation and help your kids establish a daily self-care routine that resonates with them based on their communication style.

Identify Any Areas of Need Before You Teach

Take a moment to sit down and think over the areas your child can improve and what they may need to learn. Write these areas down. 

If you’re in need of a standard guideline to reference, check out the milestone chart below. This chart will help give you an idea of what you can expect from your child at each stage.

Age Developmental Milestones
  • Attempting to brush teeth
  • remove own socks and shoes
  • cooperate with dressing by extending arms/legs
  • Uses toilet with assistance and has daytime control
  • unbuttoning large buttons
  • using napkin to wipe face and hands
  • feeding self simple meals with fork or spoon
  • help with simple chores
  • washing own body parts in bath with assistance
  • put toys away
  • dress himself with help
  • clear plate after meals
  • help set the table
  • brush teeth and wash face with help
  • Feeding self without difficulty
  • Toileting independently
  • dressing and undressing- only requiring assistance with laces, buttons, or other fasteners in awkward places
  • brush teeth independently
  • Choosing weather appropriate clothes
  • Dressing self independently
  • Full name, address, and phone number to reach parent
  • how to make an emergency call
  • dust easy to reach places and clear the table after meals
  • feed pets
  • identify money denominations
  • comb hair and wash face independently
  • help with basic laundry chores- put clothes away and bring dirty clothes to hamper/laundry room
  • choose own clothes
  • morning routine independently
  • opening lunch boxes, zip lock  bags, food packaging
  • packing a bag for school or outings with assistance
  • showering independently
  • packing a bag for school or outings with little assistance or prompting
  • telling the time
  • mix, stir, and cut with a dull knife
  • make basic meal like a sandwich
  • help put groceries away
  • wash dishes
  • taking on more responsibilities and chores
  • pride in personal belongings
    • fold own clothes
    • learn simple sewing
    • care for outdoor toys like bikes
  • count money and make change
  • use broom and dustpan properly
  • read a recipe and prepare a simple meal
  • help create a grocery list
  • take out the trash
  • independently handle personal hygiene
  • stay home alone
  • go to the store and make purchases by herself
  • change own sheets
  • use washing machine and dryer
  • plan and prepare a meal with several ingredients
  • use the oven to broil or bake foods
  • learn to read labels
  • iron clothes
  • use basic hand tools
  • care for younger siblings or neighbors
  • More sophisticated cleaning and maintenance chores- plunging a toilet, cleaning stove, unclogging drains
  • fill car with gas, add air to and change a tire
  • read and understand medicine labels and dosage
  • interview for and get a job
  • create and maintain a calendar
Young Adults
  • make regular doctor and dentist appts
  • manage bank account, pay a bill, write checks, use card
  • understand basic contracts
  • schedule oil changes and  basic car maintenance


Every child learns differently, and as their parent, you know best. Looking over your list, think about what typically gets them to listen. Some children are more visual, others are more hands-on, and others comprehend better by just telling them exactly what to do. Whichever way that may be, come up with a strategy or a “lesson plan” before you start teaching them. Preparation is so important––especially with our own kids! 

Break Down the Steps of One Task

Now that you have identified what areas your child needs to work on, you can begin teaching in one of those areas. Taking it one task at a time helps children fully understand it because you can break down the steps they need to take for each area. For example, telling your child, “brush your teeth” is a very short way of saying, “go into the bathroom, open the drawer, take out the toothpaste and toothbrush, unscrew the lid to the toothpaste, squirt the appropriate amount of toothpaste onto the toothbrush, turn on the faucet, wet the toothbrush, put the toothbrush in your mouth, brush bottom right, brush bottom left, brush top right, brush top left, brush front of front teeth, brush back of front teeth, brush tongue, spit into the sink, rinse off toothbrush, turn off sink, return toothbrush and toothpaste to drawer.” *Takes a breather* That’s a lot of steps! This reiterates why it is so important to write out a plan and have these steps prepared so you don’t leave anything out. Children need to be walked through this in order to learn. 

Top Tip: Is your child a visual learner? Use visual supports, pictures, lists, etc. Post them near where your child will engage in the skill.

Prompt The Steps of Each Task 

Prompting means providing your child with additional assistance to guide them through the task you want them to complete. For example, if you want your child to brush their teeth independently, brushing their teeth for them will not teach them the skills. Whereas, having your child hold the toothbrush and guide their hand back and forth across their teeth will show them how to do the task on their own. It is important to note that you should avoid using verbal cues altogether. This will help support your child in being independent and not relying on being told what to do next. There are three styles of prompting that you can use as a guideline:

  1. Guided assistance: physically guiding your child’s hand (with your hand over their hand) to complete the step.
  2. Gesturing: pointing to the step that needs to be completed (to a chart or guideline with the steps listed).
  3. Modeling: showing your child the step (for example, rubbing your hands together to show the motion required to wash hands with soap, so your child is able to imitate the action).

These three prompts make it easy to fade out your prompting once you see that your child is able to do these tasks on their own. Fading yourself out of prompting is important because it allows your child to slowly be able to do tasks on their own over time. By breaking down the steps of one task at a time and using prompts, your child will be practicing self-care tasks in no time! 

The goal is to allow our children to be independent but to not get overwhelmed by taking on too many tasks at once. We always want our children working towards accomplishing goals, but being provided the prompting and support in order to achieve them. Always keep these learning sessions very fun and full of praise so your child looks forward to them and learns that they are capable! We are setting our kids up for success when we teach them to care for themselves. This helps them feel more confident, independent, and better prepares them for life! 

Top Tip: Celebrate independence! For younger children, or anyone working on an especially challenging task, find a way to celebrate when you are no longer needing to prompt steps and they are doing the task independently. You could make a simple certificate of accomplishment, create a list of independent tasks they can see and add to, or grab a favorite treat or do a fun activity together!