6 Life Skills You Can Teach Your Children Now
If you have been following Parker Posts for awhile you are familiar with the fact that one of my main goals as a parent is to guide my children how to become self sufficient young adults. I am constantly looking for opportunities to help them achieve more and more independence so that when the day comes for them to leave our home they will be confident and prepared for the world outside. I have previously written posts about 5 Reasons Your Child Should Pack Their Own Lunch and Tips For Teaching Kids To Do Their Own Laundry. Today, I wanted to share 6 Life Skills that I have introduced to our children through the years. I have tried to come up with fun ways to teach some of them, others are everyday responsibilities that have been taught over time, and (I won’t lie) some just selfishly make my life a little easier 😉.
At my daughter’s kindergarten Back to School Night, her incredibly wise teacher imparted some advice with the parents that has stuck with me ever since. Mrs. S. informed the parents that she expected students to be responsible for their own backpacks everyday. Through the years she had witnessed children hand over their backpacks to their parent upon being picked up out in front of the school and she wanted to remind us that if our students were capable of carrying, taking their belongings in and out, and hanging backpacks in a specific spot while at school, they were capable of doing the same at home. It made me realize that I sometimes robbed my children of the opportunity to take responsibility for things that they were completely capable of doing by themselves. The life skills listed below are all things that middle schoolers are capable of mastering, and many can be introduced to children even younger. You are the best judge of what is appropriate for your child.
1. How to Fill Out School, Medical and Athletic Forms
This is one skill I started asking my children to assist me with back when they were preschoolers. As I would sit in the pediatrician’s office with the clipboard containing a medical questionnaire, I would ask them to verbally “help” me fill out the forms. It was an opportunity to reinforce their knowledge of their full name, address, phone number, and birthday. Once they possessed legible handwriting I started asking each child to fill out forms themselves. I would then go back and check to make sure the information they provided was correct, answer any questions they weren’t able to complete and provide a parent signature. My daughter came home from school recently eager to share that the office manager at her middle school had complimented her on the fact that she had printed, filled out, and handed in a form on her own. My daughter had assumed that this was a task most middle schoolers performed and was both surprised and proud to discover otherwise.
- Help young children memorize their address by singing the information while riding around in the car. “my name is __________. I live at 123 Street, my town, state”. We sang our name and address song to the tune of “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring”.
- Show your children where they can find the information they need for forms. We keep a typed sheet of emergency information taped inside a cabinet in our kitchen. It includes our doctors and emergency contacts names and numbers and insurance information. When the kids were younger I would always show this sheet to babysitters in case there was an emergency while we were out. Now, it’s a resource for our children.
- Sit down with your tween or teen and add important names and numbers to the contacts in their phone. I include insurance information in the notes section of each medical contact.
2. How to Pump Gas
I’ll be honest, filling up the gas tank is not a chore I look forward to doing (especially on a cold, winter day). It is also a skill that teens will need to be comfortable with once they start driving and frankly if you try and teach them when they are 15 you will most likely encounter a lot of eye rolling and claims that you are embarrassing them as you attempt to show them how to lock a nozzle in place. A ten year old on the other hand might relish the fact that you are allowing them to do a “grown-up” task. Why not give yourself a break and give them a few years of practice?
- Walk them through how to insert a credit card, enter the zip code, determine the grade of gas, undo the cap, insert the nozzle and lock the nozzle in place.
- While the tank is filling up take the opportunity to check the seat pockets, cupholders, and floor for trash together. You can also teach them how to wash the windows.
- After the tank is full show them how to replace the nozzle, lock the cap into place, close the cover.
- Often times we each guess how much money it will take to fill the tank. Person with the closest guess wins family bragging rights. Now that my children realize how much we spend on gas they are starting to consider how they are going to pay for fuel once they get their drivers license.
3. How to Navigate Their Way Home
As my kids get older and more independent it’s important that they know how to get around town on foot or on their bike, give directions to our home and more. We play a game in the car sometimes when we aren’t in a hurry to get someplace. They volunteer or I pick someone to be “Siri” and navigate us home or to a place they should be familiar with. Their job is to direct me with ample warning where to turn, stop, park, etc… I only follow their directions, which had resulted in our family taking a hilarious and very round about drive to a number of locations. Playing “Siri” has caused them to be more aware of their surroundings as we go places. During a time when many kids spend car trips looking down at screens, this game helps kids enjoy the view outside the car window. We used to tease my daughter that she would need breadcrumbs to find her way home because her sense of direction was so terrible, but recently she directed a parent driving her home from an activity to our house without any difficulty. I was able to drop my son off with his bike in the neighboring town last weekend and have the peace of mind to know he could make it home safely.
4. How to Conduct a Telephone Conversation
It can be intimidating for kids to talk to adults on the phone. Whether it’s simply talking to Grandma, placing an order or calling with a question, this is a skill that becomes easier with continued practice.
- I taught my children that they need to start each telephone conversation by greeting the other person, introducing themselves, and stating the purpose of their call. “Hello, my name is ___________. I would like to order a dozen cupcakes for my birthday party.”
- Before making a call, I have my children role play what they are planning to say with me.
- I remind them to ask for the other person’s name if they aren’t familiar with the person they are talking to in case there is a need to follow up on the conversation later. “Thank you for your help. May I ask your name?”
My daughter experienced first hand how important this last tip can be. She was helping to organize a fundraiser and called a local business to find out when she should place an order for the items they needed. She was given a date to call back. On that date, the person who answered said it was too late for her to place the order. Luckily, she had written down the name of the person she had spoken to previously and when she shared the name the order was allowed to be placed.
5. How to Make Purchases and Returns
This is another skill that is easy to start teaching when children are just entering grade school and have a gift card burning a hole in their pocket. As they get older you can start to talk about how to pay for an item using the correct amount of change. I recently had to go over how to store money in a wallet with my kids. They were stuffing dollars in every which way and when it came time to pay for something the whole wad of cash would explode out of their wallet making it difficult to complete the transaction quickly.
- Encourage children to ask the store clerk for help if they need assistance. Remind them to look an adult in the eyes and speak clearly.
- Discuss what their budget is and how to calculate sales tax so that they are able to stay within their budget.
- Instruct children to greet the cashier and say thank you once the transaction is complete.
- Remind your child to double check that the items and amounts listed on the receipt are correct.
- Talk about when it is appropriate to tip and how much you should tip in different circumstances.
Don’t forget to teach them about internet shopping and returns too…
- Remind them to always get parent permission before making an online purchase.
- Suggest that they search multiple sites to find the best deal.
- Talk about researching the cost of shipping and returns before placing an order and verifying that the site has a secure checkout page.
- Show them how they can find discount codes to apply to online orders through a search engine.
- Teach them how to repackage, print and fill out a return slip for items that don’t work out.
6. How to Get Ready for Their Day
Several years ago I attended the She’s All That Conference with my daughter. One of the presenters talked about how getting out the door in the morning can be one of the most frustrating times of the day for a family. She made the point that we should be sending our children off to face their day on a positive note. I had gotten into the habit of spending most of the morning asking if they had remembered to wash their face, brush their teeth, take a sweatshirt…and the list goes on. She reminded me that my children already knew what their morning responsibilities were and my repeating the same thing over and over morning after morning only caused them to tune me out or view me as a nag. After the conference I took a step back and just worked on getting myself ready to make it out of the door on time. It allows the words my children hear coming from me in the morning to consist of “good morning” and “have a great day.” That’s not to say every morning is perfect. Alarm clocks have not gone off, lunches have been forgotten, but the natural consequences have caused them to create a morning routine that works for them. I would rather they receive a tardy slip now, than to miss a final exam later in life when the stakes are much higher. If the mornings start to take a turn for the worse we have a discussion about what is causing something to be neglected and develop strategies they can use to get back on task. Recently it seemed my son was frequently packing food into his lunchbox when he should have been getting in the car. Now, he is packing his lunch the night before and I am frequently the last one in the car.
- Discuss your expectations of what a successful morning routine should look like.
- Stop waking your child up! Place an alarm clock in their room that your child is responsible for setting and turning off. My daughter has been known to turn off her alarm and go back to sleep. She solved the problem by moving her clock across the room so that she has to get out of bed to turn it off in the morning.
- Discuss strategies for improving their morning routine when you aren’t rushing out the door and have time to sit down together calmly.
Praise, thank and acknowledge whenever you notice that your child has made an effort. I make sure my son knows how much I appreciate the fact that he filled the entire gas tank independently so that I could return a couple e-mails from the front seat, or that I’m impressed my daughter was able to download and complete a return slip for a dress she ordered online that didn’t fit without any assistance. I take notice when my son’s laundry piles have been expertly sorted and admire when my daughter has extra time in the morning to relax. Compliments are best received when you offer specific details of what has been done well versus just saying “Good Job.” Our appreciation for our children’s efforts only fuels their confidence and willingness to learn in the future.
Also, keep in mind that it can be easier to introduce a “grown-up” responsibility to a younger child because they might see it as a privilege that you are trusting them with such a mature task. You might be met with more resistance if you wait to teach life skills to a teen that thinks they already know everything.
Is there a life skill in today’s post the hadn’t occurred to you to teach your child? What life skills do you think are most important for children to possess before they leave the nest? I would love to hear and learn from you!