The world is a hazardous place for kids and the sooner they learn to look after themselves, the better for everyone. The best time to start is early as good habits can become second nature quite easily, without resistance or forgetfulness. If you haven’t started early, be reassured that it’s actually never too late to learn.

Safety in and around the home is usually learned very early on, partly through the child’s own misadventures – they quickly learn how to avoid trapping their fingers in doors, banging their heads on the table and falling outside etc. through their own mistakes. Parents or guardians usually castigate and warn their children not to play with electrical sockets, the medicine cabinet etc. and not to climb up on the worktops. This is reinforced by the behavior the child observes in others – they never see adults or other children engaging in those behaviors and so they believe the warnings must be true and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Personal hygiene is best taught in a similar way, although some kids take a lackadaisical attitude towards this (as do some adults, unfortunately). By having everyone wash their hands before and after handling food, or using the bathroom, cleaning their teeth after eating, washing regularly etc. it simply becomes natural behavior to the child. At some point, especially if the child becomes lazy or begins to resist hygiene, you should sit them down and explain to them about germs and the dangers they pose and how we deal with them. Quite often, visual aids and videos are helpful for this purpose. You can also explain to them about plaque and decay if they don’t clean their teeth properly. Try choosing a nice electric toothbrush with them from as part of the deal.

Next up, children need to start to learn how to do things for themselves. These things are often best learned as part of their household chores. For example, a very young child can begin to learn how to sort and even how to fold clothes and where to put them. They may not quite be ready to even dress themselves just yet, but these skills and this knowledge will come in handy when they do. As sorting clothes is similar to tidying up, this is another chore which can be taught early.

Once they are able to use the bathroom, wash themselves and dress themselves properly, plus tidy their rooms, you can start to set them chores in other rooms – setting the table, for example, and tidying up after a meal. You can also start teaching basic cleaning principles, but it will be a while until they can use chemical cleaners and cleaning appliances safely.

Tasks such as washing up and putting away cutlery and dishes are possible for young children, too, but their ability to perform the tasks will depend on other factors such as the height of cupboards and the sink. Don’t ask them to do anything which could result in an injury.

Once they are tall enough to get around the kitchen, you can begin to teach them about food safety and how to prepare simple snacks and meals. Lessons such as checking that food is safe to eat, what should be refrigerated and so on can be taught simply by showing a child what to look out for. In most cases they will be repulsed by the smell, but they need to be made aware of things like mold and bacteria which are easily missed.

The kitchen is perhaps the most dangerous room in the whole house, so every time you teach your child something new there, you need to supervise them until they have safely mastered the task. Once your child knows how to safely prepare a cooked meal, using blenders, knives, boiling water, frying oil and an oven, you can be pretty sure that they can handle learning about anything else in the house – although when you teach them about electrics, power tools, using ladders etc. you need to have them under strict supervision.

By instilling notions of self-discipline and responsibility in your child at an early age, you win half of the battle. If they approach everything they learn with those attitudes, they will mature into a sensible young adult without any problem.