“I’m not letting anyone in this house give a haircut yet, but that day may come.”

So says Vanessa Elias, a parenting coach (and founder of parent coaching business Thrive With a Guide), a mom of three girls ages 18, 16 and 11, and a free play advocate in her town of Wilton, Connecticut. Frankly, she’s also my friend.

Vanessa came up with the list below, inspired, in part, by Let Grow, the nonprofit I run that promotes childhood independence and resilience. She was also inspired by looking around at all the childhood changes happening thanks to the pandemic. “I thought about the new things that my kids were doing, or that others in our community had done,” says Vanessa. “And I thought of things that I’d LIKE my kids to do.”

With parents stretched thin and kids looking at far more free time than before, the solution was obvious: Have the kids help out more. At Vanessa’s home, the girls have started folding the fitted sheets (a skill I have yet to master), cleaning the bathroom and making more elaborate meals than before. Other kids she knows are pitching in more, too. “They’re all learning a new skill, and it’s a win for the parents, too, making their lives easier,” says Vanessa. “And it’s not just pretend. It’s real.”

So, if your kids are bored and wondering, “What can I do?” here is Vanessa’s list. For an even longer list of ideas, you might want to check out the Let Grow Independence Kit, which is free on the Let Grow website.

You can social distance and still grow, grow, grow!

Here are some ideas:

  • Make coffee for your parents.
  • Put your younger sibling down for a nap.
  • Give a family member a haircut (with consent only!).
  • Clean garages, refrigerators and toilets.
  • Do/fold/put away laundry.
  • Vacuum!
  • Learn how to iron.
  • Start a fire in the fire pit.
  • Manage your own schoolwork.
  • Pull weeds.
  • Decorate a car for birthday parades.
  • Empty /load dishwasher.
  • Pet care.
  • Cook a meal.
  • Bake cookies, pretzels or bread.
  • Use a sharp knife.
  • Call in a refill on your own prescription.
  • Learn how to make masks for hospital workers.
  • Go shopping for an elderly neighbor.
  • Hold a concert on the front steps or on Zoom for neighbors and family.
  • Learn how to knit.
  • Make a sign for your door or mailbox to thank first responders.
  • Make cards for hospital staff.
  • Write a letter to the editor about a topic that interests you.
  • Rearrange the furniture in the room (with permission, of course).
  • Set up Zoom babysitting service (you entertain the kid by Zoom while the parent does something else).
  • Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow and founder of Free-Range Kids.


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