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Self-Care Skills for Children

Self-care skills are important for your child’s physical, social, and mental health. Self-care may be harder for children who have a disease, are receiving treatment, or recovering. It is important for children to remain as independent and safe as possible in daily tasks. Examples of self-care skills are:

  • Eating and self-feeding
  • Bathing
  • Grooming
  • Dressing
  • Toileting

Learning these skills helps children be more independent and confident so they can reach childhood milestones.

Occupational therapy for self-care

If your child has problems with self-care tasks, occupational therapy (OT) may help. Occupational therapists are health care providers who specialize in helping patients do the tasks of daily life. They can help your child learn new, safe ways of doing things and reach childhood milestones. 

An occupational therapist may teach your child how to perform self-care tasks more easily and gain independence. They can tell you about assistive devices or tools to make daily living easier and develop a plan based on your child’s needs and situation.  

Toddler eating spaghetti with child-friendly fork.

Child-friendly utensils help children grasp better and eat easier.

Tips to help with daily tasks

Eating and self-feeding

  • Use child-friendly cups, plates, bowls, and utensils (forks, knives, spoons). Eating may be easier with curved or weighted utensils or those with built-up handles. High-sided plates, plate guards, and spill-proof cups can help. Older children and teens can use rocker knives. They can press the rocker knife down on the food, then rock it back and forth instead of sawing it.
  • Use non-skid placemats stop plates from sliding on the table.
  • Teach your child how to move food from their plate onto their fork. They can use their fork to push smaller food (such as corn) into heavier food (such as meat) until the smaller food is on the fork.
  • Positional devices and activity chairs allow children to support themselves and keep their hands free.
  • If your child has problems with chewing or swallowing, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) may be able to help them.


  • Put a shower chair in the shower stall or bathtub. This chair helps your child stay upright and not tire so easily when bathing.
  • Use a tub transfer bench to prevent falls when getting in or out of the bathtub. Transfer benches can help if your child has problems with balance or lifting their leg over the bathtub wall. Use anti-slip mats or grab handles can also help prevent falls.
  • Use long-handled sponges to wash hard-to-reach parts of the body. These work well for children with balance problems.
  • Your child can use a bath mitt. A mitt is like a washcloth that is worn over your child’s hand. They can put soap on it and it will stay on their hand when they wash. They can use one hand for bathing instead of two hands to hold a washcloth and soap.


  • For hair brushing, your child can use a long-handled hairbrush to get hard-to-reach spots. They can also use hairbrushes with built-up handles to improve their grip.
  • Use toothpaste with a flip top, which is easier to open than a screw top. If your child has a weak hand or one hand, applying toothpaste to the brush may be difficult. They can put their toothbrush on the counter, then use their strong hand to squeeze toothpaste from the tube onto the brush.
  • Use an electric toothbrush to make brushing easier.
Little girl sits while putting on shoes

Sitting down while dressing or undressing can help your child dress safely if they tire easily or have balance problems.

Getting dressed

  • Occupational therapists can teach your child new ways to put on or take off clothes and shoes.
  • Children who tire easily or have balance problems can sit down while dressing or undressing.
  • Button hooks help children pull a button through its hole. These hooks help children who have problems making small movements with their hands (fine motor skills).
  • Your child can use sock aids to put on socks without reaching the ground. Sock aids are helpful for children with balance problems. This aid is also helpful for children that could injure their hips after surgery.
  • Your child can use shoes with elastic or Velcro closures instead of laces. This can make it easier to put on or take off shoes.


  • A toilet safety frame can help a child safely get on and off the toilet.
  • Some children have trouble walking to the bathroom toilet. They may need a portable bedside commode.
  • Potty training may be hard if your child has an illness or is recovering. An occupational therapist can make a toileting schedule that is right for your child’s age, stage of development, and medical needs.

Other self-care tips

  • Let your child do chores that are right for their age, like helping prepare meals, cleaning, or shopping.
  • Think about how long it takes for your child to do a task. Help them plan breaks so they don’t get tired.
  • Your child can do tasks longer if they sit down. If needed, you can use a positional device to support their body and keep their hands free.
  • If they must walk or stand, have your child take breaks or use assistive devices to do this safely. They can use a walker or wheelchair. Young adults can use a motorized scooter.
  • Braces and orthotics can help support weak joints and muscles.
  • Slant boards and stands can hold things and may make reading and writing easier.
  • Playing helps children develop problem-solving, planning, organization, and self-care skills. Make their play area safe by putting a padded mat on the floor. Your occupational therapist can suggest toys that are right for your child. When your child plays with toys, they use their hands and wrists to do small movements (fine motor skills). Play helps their physical development.

Key points about self-care skills

  • It is important for children to remain as independent and safe as possible in daily tasks.
  • Your child may have problems with self-care activities such as eating, bathing, grooming, dressing, and toileting.
  • An occupational therapist can help your child learn new ways of doing things and suggest assistive devices to make daily living easier.
  • Help your child develop independence and confidence in daily tasks and self-care skills  appropriate for their age and abilities.

Resources for more information

Reviewed: October 2022