Baking cookies is a holiday tradition. While recipes remain the same, parents must adjust their approach to this tradition depending on the child's developmental age. Babies If you have...

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Baking cookies is a holiday tradition.

While recipes remain the same, parents must adjust their approach to this tradition depending on the child’s developmental age.


If you have a baby, you’ll likely start baking when baby’s asleep. If your infant awakens, you know to tend to her right away. It’s difficult to multitask; juggling the baby and cookie dough is next to impossible. You must set the cookie dough aside until baby is content.

When you respond to baby’s wails immediately, you not only provide responsive care on baby’s behalf, but your child learns to trust that a loving parent will be there to look after her when she’s in a needy state. The child then lives in a relaxed state of mind rather than an anxious one


When baking cookies with your toddler present, don’t expect he’ll sit on the kitchen floor and play while you do the mixing and measuring. Your toddler wants to be by your side, either sitting on a stool or standing on a chair.

Toddlers are copycats and will insist on mimicking your baking methods. If you add to the batter a little chocolate syrup, your toddler might demand to add the liquid detergent that sits next to the sink and when you take it out of his hand, he’ll most likely throw a tantrum. Stay near him; don’t say much. The tantrum will pass and he’ll be back up at the counter soon, using all his senses — tasting, touching, smelling, listening and seeing — to experience what you and he are doing.


Preschool-age children eagerly participate in the cookie-baking tradition. You offer a cup of flour; the preschooler agreeably adds it to the batter. You’re the chef; your child , the sous chef.

If, however, you go off to answer e-mail while your preschooler decorates cookies, he might try to find out what happens when mixing red and green frosting. When you return, you’ll realize that instead of green tree cookies and red Santa cookies, they’re all grayish-brown. It’s not a problem for your preschooler; the process was important to him, not the end product.

Later you might see your preschooler re-enacting baking cookies in pretend play.
School age

Once your child reaches the school years, she’s in charge of baking cookies. She needs you to explain how to proceed, but she’s now the cookie chef; you become the child’s mentor to success. You might need to explain, “Lower case ‘t’ means teaspoon, capital ‘T’ means tablespoon.”

Children between ages 6 and 12 seek to develop their competency. If they take on a project for themselves and then you take over, they feel incompetent. If you’re not there to coach and they meet with disaster, your child feels incompetent. It’s a fine line you walk; you need to offer guidance, while leaving your child feeling accomplished.


When a teen bakes cookies, parents need to stay out of the kitchen. Teens push for independence.

If you smell smoke, say “smoke” and pull the cookies out of the oven. Then, zip your lip. Don’t even think about saying, “What were you thinking about?” Your actions and the burnt cookies say enough. It’s good that your teenager is home baking cookies even if she’s on the phone while attempting to complete the task.

The cookie-baking ritual nurtured from infancy is in place, it may not be until your child comes home as a young adult before you can complete the holiday tradition together again.

Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers questions of general interest in her column. You can e-mail her at or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.