At the supermarket, my 8-year-old, Stella, begs me to let her pick a box of pasta by herself. At home, she wants to flip pancakes on the stove. And, she asks, could I please leave the bathroom while she showers? Sure, Stella is growing up, but I worry about her independent nature interfering with her safety. "It's normal for some kids this age to ask for more responsibility," says Parents advisor Jennifer Shu, M.D., medical editor for HealthyChildren.org, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "You don't want to hold your child back, yet it's common to have reservations about whether she's really mature enough." Experts say yay or nay to five common big-kid requests.
Yay! Your kid probably switched from a bath to a shower a while ago but still needed some help to shampoo his hair and work the faucet. If he can now handle both on his own, they're signs that he's able to shower on his own, says Dr. Shu. Just stay within earshot until you're confident that he has the hang of it. Transferring shampoo to a pump bottle can make it easier for him to get it out -- and not overpour. Also put down a nonslip mat and remove sharp objects, like razors.
Cooking On the Stove
Nay! Kids need to be at least in middle school to work on the stove independently, says pediatrician Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, in New Hyde Park. Whether your child is ready to flip pancakes or stir-fry veggies with your close supervision depends on her maturity and impulse control. But avoid cooking over high heat and boiling water because the contents can splatter and burn her. Never let her carry a hot pot, pan, or tray.
Using a Public Restroom Alone
Maybe! It's usually fine as long as you stand outside the door so your child is within earshot. An exception: "In a loud, crowded place, like an amusement park or a stadium, you should have someone else, whether it's another child or a parent you know and trust, go in with your kid," says Dr. Adesman. "If that's not possible, you may have to bring him to the women's restroom with you."
Taking a Pill
Yay! "Kids this age have been taught how to swallow pills," says Christine Chambers, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her technique: Ask your child to put a tiny round cake-decorating sprinkle on her tongue, take a drink, and swallow. Then do the same with a slightly larger candy, working up to a Tic Tac or an M&M and having her swallow it whole.
Yay! "It's fine to let your child separate from you at the supermarket as long as you are able to see him the entire time," says Dr. Shu. But establish ground rules first -- for example, he has to come back to you immediately and never go to another part of the store without talking to you first.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Parents magazine.