Whether you’re a parent, a mentor, or a community member, it’s hard to deny that it would be ideal for kids to have a decent set of life skills before entering the adult world. There are a myriad of situations that would benefit from the existence of more bright and capable human beings. Though school and teachers can act as learning guides, they’re only a portion of the life experience. As kids return to school, I wonder how many are able to take classes in personal finance, shop, or home economics. These aren’t as commonly offered or required as they once were. Though, the skills that develop from these lessons are invaluable.
There are many opportunities for children to learn life skills outside of the standard school curriculum. Some of these opportunities can be taught at home and in the community.
Essential Life Skills to Learn Before Flying the Coop
Teaching life skills to children can help them cultivate their independence and independent thinking. There are a number of lessons that are valuable at any age, whether you’re teaching small children or young adults on their way out the door.
Healthy and Effective Communication
An important life skill for functioning in society is healthy and effective communication. Though we can’t control what others say or how they react, we can control our own language. This is undeniably essential for getting in and out of all kinds of situations. Healthy communication involves respect, honesty, and active listening. It’s crucial for building and sustaining positive relationships, as well as for confrontation and conflict resolution.
The goal of effective communication is to reach a shared understanding between all parties, even when that means agreeing to disagree or communicating the need to walk away.
Pick Up After Oneself
To teach children to pick up after themselves is to teach them about consideration, responsibility, and independence. It means that they learn they aren’t entitled to others cleaning up after them. A clean environment encourages mental clarity and self-confidence, which are states of mind that can carry over other areas of life.
Be Comfortable with Failure
Let your kids fail magnificently. Though it might be painful to watch them struggle in the aftermath of life experiences or choices, it’s a necessary part of growth. Life isn’t a constant reel of success and happiness; it’s a variable journey of highs and lows. Failing means trying something, and trying often means learning.
Cope with Death and Loss
Death is a part of life. Teaching your children to understand loss of any kind will help them learn the temporary nature of what’s around them.
It’s okay to make mistakes; we’re not perfect. Kids who learn to acknowledge their mistakes and can move forward from them are equipped to handle challenges and conflict. Personal accountability can improve all aspects of life, from personal relationships and career advancement to financial wellness and overall health.
The Value of a Dollar
Discussing money can be tough, but it’s necessary for a child to understand the value of a dollar. About half of the country now requires a personal finance course to be completed before high school graduation, but there’s still much learning that could be done outside of the classroom.
Kids are like sponges; they soak up what’s around them, and the use of money is no different. They will replicate what they see at home, among their friends, and on social media. Understanding how money is valued and how it operates will create habits that last well into adulthood. Financial literacy and good money habits generate an incredible amount of possibilities, including greater access to loans, negotiating power, and more.
|Looking for tips on how to foster financial independence in children? Check out our post here!
Comparison shopping helps consumers make informed decisions. It is the process of comparing prices on products and services from different vendors to determine the best value. As young adults become independent consumers, it’d be beneficial to understand how to comparison shop for groceries, insurance plans, repairs, clothing, etc. The list can go on.
There are a number of websites and apps that help streamline the comparison shopping process. Many find these tools beneficial, though I don’t personally use any browser extensions or apps. I prefer independent research and working directly with different companies.
The Process of Negotiation
Almost everything is negotiable. The ability to negotiate is a key skill that will come in handy in personal and professional ventures. It is an expression of ownership and self-worth. Understanding the negotiation process builds strategic agility, communication skills, and confidence.
Determine Opportunity Cost
Weighing and determining the costs and benefits of decisions can shape the direction of life. The concept of opportunity cost can be conveyed by explaining that the time, effort, or money spent on one thing leaves less to spend on another. Learning about opportunity costs can help develop critical thinking and decision-making.
Knowing how to do laundry is a pre-requisite for adulthood. Whether one chooses to visit a laundromat, handwash, or machine wash at home, properly laundering clothes is an essential life skill. It’s an excellent way to learn how to care for different fabrics, maximize clothing life, and maintain cleanliness.
Cooking and Meal Preparation
Basic cooking skills are necessary for a well-rounded, nutritious diet. In order to feel satiated, one must learn how to properly feed themselves. Children can learn by helping in the kitchen, observing, and even taking notes from YouTube videos. Teach them how to safely cut vegetables, prepare meat or plant-based proteins, and create healthy sides.
Basic Car Maintenance
If your child happens to drive a vehicle, then he or she would likely feel more comfortable knowing some basic car maintenance. Even if they don’t have a vehicle, these skills can be useful for them to help others they meet along the way. Teach them how to check fluids, maintain tire pressure, change tires, jumpstart a battery, and pay attention to any strange noises or warning lights. Without these lessons, car frustrations can easily become car emergencies with costly or dangerous consequences.
General Home Maintenance
Similar to my note above about cleaning up after oneself, learning how to maintain a home helps create self-confidence, pride, and clarity. In fact, understanding general home maintenance can help put things in perspective. Changing air filters, for instance, is a routine must-do to prevent unnecessary wear and tear on an air conditioning unit. If one were to dismiss this routine, they could run the risk of spending $8,000 on a new AC replacement.
Preventative maintenance is part of keeping a home, as is unclogging a drain, replacing light bulbs or light fixtures, fixing misaligned drawers, and sometimes even maintaining the lawn. At the very least, it’d be helpful to know how to use basic tools before heading out into the world.
Ask for Help
If we can’t figure something out ourselves, what do we do? Do we give up or do we ask for help? Knowing when to ask for help is a strength, not a weakness. It’s a state of brave vulnerability. A significant lesson to teach is that it’s always worth trying things on one’s own before seeking help. And, when that time comes, whether all reasonable attempts have been exhausted or the situation has become unsafe, then it’s time to ask for help.
Finding the right kind of help can open the door to new connections, opportunities, and lessons learned.
Accept and Offer Help Graciously
Respectfully accepting help is the way to go. People aren’t going to want to help those who expect or take advantage of it. Asking for and accepting help involves communicating respect, consideration, and humility. The same applies to offering help. It’s important to recognize one’s own humility when helping others; no one wants to be ridiculed or embarrassed because they need help.
Resilience is the ability to roll with the punches and come out on top when faced with difficult life events. Kids can learn a lot about themselves when they get back up each time the world knocks ’em down. Life’s not easy. It can be difficult to resist jumping in to fix whatever problems your child faces, but they will learn how to swim. Let them sort things out on their own. When they ask questions, answer with questions to inspire introspection. Resilience teaches one to be flexible, curious, and strong.
Setting boundaries is a measure of self-care and self-respect. It is the framework by which we establish how we want to be treated by others. Boundaries signify respecting our own needs and being respectful of the needs of others. They look different for everyone. Setting and enforcing boundaries involves assuming responsibility for one’s own actions and feelings while denying responsibility for the actions and feelings of others.
When a child is able to understand and establish their own boundaries, they are likely able to focus on their priorities, stand up for themselves, and express themselves authentically in a healthy, constructive way.
Critical Thinking and Resourcefulness
The internet is a bottomless source of information. Much of this information is contrived; it’s an interwoven compilation of half-truths, generalities, deception, and facts. Due to the ease of access to the internet, my generation and those following it have a lower level of critical thinking. Answers come to us far more easily than generations before. Instantaneous solutions appear in the palm of our hands, even when they may or may not be the solution we need.
The internet isn’t a bad resource. It’s also not the only one available. Teach your children to consider what’s beyond a screen. Help them use their hands to take things apart, rebuild with attention, make connections, and notice patterns. Encourage them to ask for advice, pick people’s brains, and learn through trial and error.
Read the Fine Print
For the love of the future of this country, I cannot stress how fundamental it is to read the fine print. Companies advertise and entice; they’re in the business of making money. We can fight them all we want by voting with our dollars and making our voices known, but nothing will change until the majority of consumers speak up and people stop buying into deception. Whether it’s a loan, a ticket purchase, or even a pre-nuptial agreement, one has the responsibility to read and understand a document in its entirety (including the fine print!) before signing their name to it.
A young adult will appreciate this lesson as he or she begins to navigate the world, especially when it keeps them aware of the potential traps around them. Teaching children to read the fine print is a small but effective way for them to protect themselves.
Situational Awareness and Self-Protection
Good situational awareness is a core life skill. It can actually mean the difference between life and death. Paying attention in both familiar and unfamiliar settings not only encourages active engagement, but it can also help create a baseline, identify priorities, and evaluate potential threats. Discuss different scenarios with your child; teach them the significance of the buddy system, locating exits, and walking with a purpose. Ask them how they would protect themselves and initiate a dialogue about self-protection techniques.
One simple strategy to boost happiness and reduce stress is to practice gratitude. This action helps to reframe negative feelings and situations into more constructive ones. When life gets bumpy, it’s important to take a step back, focus on what matters most, and be grateful for little moments of joy. Do you make it a habit to give thanks at home? Teach a child how to reflect on the highs and lows of each day, appreciate the good at the end of the week, or even keep a gratitude journal.
Life Isn’t Fair
I was an angry, angsty mess of a child. After crying and complaining, I often heard the phrase, “Life isn’t fair.” Truer words have never been spoken.
Life isn’t fair. From the consequences of malicious gossip to the corruption and manipulation of politics, the concept of fairness is heavily influenced by a number of external factors. And while we can teach the children in our lives to move forward in this unfair world with a useful set of life skills, there’s no guarantee that these lessons will stick.
Maybe they’ll learn a few tricks; maybe they won’t. As a parent, a mentor, or a community member, the best we can do is try to lead by example and introduce these lessons to the kids around us. Ultimately, they’re going to learn what they want to learn and be who they want to be. Hopefully, some of these important life skills translate into positive, healthy behaviors that promote constructive vision, progress, and community.
Perhaps one day we might witness a collective independence from young children similar to that seen in Japan:
What other life skills are important to teach children?
Additional Resources for Learning Life Skills
Location-specific resources can be found online by searching your city and state and through community groups, churches, and other local organizations.
- The YMCA (also known as the Y) is a Christian-based non-profit organization with a comprehensive offering of programs and services dedicated to enriching individuals and the community.
- Boy Scouts of America, Scouts BSA, and Girls Scouts of the USA prepare young people for life through hands-on learning, achievement, and leadership opportunities.
- StandUp for Kids is a non-profit organization that works directly with homeless and at-risk youth, as well as homeless young parents with children of their own. Their mission is to end the cycle of youth homelessness through outreach, counseling, mentoring, life-skills training, and housing.
- SkillsUSA is a national career and student organization comprised of teachers, students, and industry leaders who work together to empower students to become career-ready for trade, technical, and skilled service occupations.
- Local and virtual internships provide another outlet for learning life skills.
- Local libraries have a handful of resources and classes that provide life skills training.