Parenting includes teaching life skills your child needs in adulthood. Find activities and ideas to make learning life skills easy and effective at an early age.
It’s hard to imagine, but our kids will be adults. We assume we have time before they really need to buckle down and learn a few things. We don’t think about important life skills they need to learn before becoming adults.
Author and former Dean of Freshman at Stanford, Julie Lythcott-Haims, says many young adults don’t have the skills they should’ve learned throughout childhood.
Her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, sheds light on how little our kids can do for themselves because we do so much for them. At Stanford, she saw how dependable young adults have grown on their parents.
They rely so much on us from picking a major in college to finding an apartment. And when they face social conflict or a mean boss, they crumble.
All because they don’t have the skills they should’ve learned all these years.
And this is a problem. After all, we can’t coddle our kids for 18 years only to unleash them into the world at the last second. And we can’t wait until they’re teens to learn what they should’ve been learning all along.
Take, for instance, a scene Lythcott-Haims describes in her book. A mom and her son were about to cross the street. The mom looked both ways and held her son back when cars approached before finally leading the way.
All well and good, until you realize her son had his earphones plugged in, fingers and eyes glued to his smart phone. He didn’t even bother to cross the street carefully, relying solely on his mom.
If our kids don’t learn to cross the street on their own, what else are they missing out on?
Lythcott-Haims laid eight life skills kids should know by the time they’re 18-years-old. She writes:
“If we want our kids to have a shot at making it in the world as eighteen-year-olds, without the umbilical cord of the cell phone being their go-to solution in all manner of things, they’re going to need a set of basic life skills.”
I took those skills and found ways we, as parents of younger kids, can do now to raise future adults:
1. Talk to people
This isn’t about being introverted or extroverted, or having sweaty palms when meeting people. Instead, the ability to talk to people is about gaining the confidence and social skills to interact with other adults.
Some young adults still struggle with speaking up for themselves. They need parents to negotiate a car loan or secure an apartment. Some even are so uncomfortable with conversation they don’t look the other person in the eye.
Your child will deal with professors, bosses, landlords, doctors and so many other people. She needs to be able to interact with them in a clear, friendly and professional way.
What you can do now: Teach your child how to interact with others, including adults. Encourage her to make eye contact and say “hello” when someone greets her. Expect her to show respect to others. And stand back and allow her to speak to others.
At my six-year-old’s summer camp, parents check in their kids for the day. Normally, I stood with my son and told the teacher his name, even long after the first few days.
After I read the book, I decided to let him take the lead instead. At first, I stood nearby but told him to check himself in. A few days later, I stood a few feet away. And by the end of camp, I said my goodbye at the entrance. He’d learned to do the whole process on his own.
Encourage your child to ask her teachers for things you normally do. Maybe she can place her own orders at restaurants or get her backpack from the teacher. Encourage her to speak to others while you hover less and less. Practicing these skills starts now when they’re young.
2. Find their way around
Have you ever sat in the passenger seat heading to somewhere unfamiliar? If you’re like me, you paid no attention to how you got there and would have a hard time finding your way back.
I admit I’m not the best at directions. My map app is the only way I know how to get to most new places.
At some point, our kids won’t have us nearby to tell them where to go. They’ll need to find their way around campus or even around a new city.
What you can do now: In the car, discuss the route you’re taking to get somewhere. My six-year-old loves maps and has learned directions, streets and freeways. We’ll mention street names as well as the concept north, south, east and west.
You can also describe where you parked at a large structure. Talk about how you’re remembering where you parked, such as the floor or how many steps you climbed.
Take public transportation such as a bus, train or subway. Don’t be like me where the first time you ride a bus was well in your 20s.
And show them how to get around, such as teaching them to look for oncoming cars before crossing the street.
3. Manage their own assignments
This was one skill I learned early on. My mom didn’t hover over my homework like a hawk. This forced me to be responsible for my own assignments, when they were due, and how to plan to complete them.
Even managing my homework time was all on me. No one checked to see whether it was done. It was just expected to get done. By the time I entered college and even the workforce, I knew how to manage my time and tasks well.
Adults need to manage their own tasks, whether it’s school work or things on their to-do list. And the only way to learn this skill is to practice it early on.
What you can do now: Establish routines so your child will start tasks without you having to remind her. For instance, set aside a regular homework time after snack time. Have her make her bed soon after waking up. Routines will take you out of the equation as she learns to do things herself.
Once this is in place and your child is old enough, don’t remind her to do her homework. This can be hard, especially when you know she still needs to do it but isn’t doing it. Resist the urge to save her from mistakes and allow her to experience the consequences.
And don’t correct or do her homework for her. Instead, allow her to try it all on her own and ask you for guidance. A good homework assignment is one she can do mostly on her own.
4. Do chores
Your child shouldn’t learn how to do laundry at 18-years-old. An independent adult should be able to do basic chores all on her own. This includes laundry, cooking, cleaning, maintenance and repairs.
Parents might think they’re helping their adult children by doing chores for them. But they’re holding them back from learning basic life skills kids their age should know. And they don’t allow their kids the feeling of accomplishment for doing it on their own.
What you can do now: Make your kids do chores! Start early, even if you think it’s too early. A toddler can help put toys back in a box or bring you a stuffed animal to store away.
Like routines, make chores an everyday thing. Don’t treat them as a drag, but rather a necessary task like taking a bath or eating. And don’t give rewards. Kids should pitch in not for external rewards like allowances but the joy of helping others.
The best tip? Have your kids pitch in even when it’s not their mess to clean up. Sometimes you’ll hear kids whine because they don’t want to fix the mess a sibling made. Focus less on whose mess it is and instead teach the value of helping others. If one child spills a cup of water, encourage others to gather rags and help wipe.
Struggling with getting your kids to do their chores? Want to develop good habits from the start? Download my Printable Chore List templates to help you and your kids organize chores!
5. Handle personal problems
Do you know adults who crumble because of a nasty interaction with others? Maybe their boss embarrassed them in front of coworkers. Or they don’t know what to make of their roommate’s comment. Maybe they got in a fight with a friend and still can’t figure out how to resolve it.
Personal problems are tough for anyone, kids and adults. But through the years, we learn the life skills to cope with these scenarios. We might learn to acknowledge our emotions, or wait a few days so we don’t react. Maybe we learn empathy and imagine what the other person feels.
Sometimes personal problems aren’t even that heavy but still impact our decisions. Recently, I had to decide between attending two conflicting events we were invited to. My first impulse was to explain the situation to my husband who I had hoped would just tell me what to do.
Instead, I avoided telling him anything until I had made my decision. I weighed the situation myself rather than turning to someone else to tell me or even guide me on what to do. I owned the decision and felt much better for it.
What you can do now: Don’t step in and solve your child’s social conflicts. Imagine you’re at the playground, and you see your child in a scuffle with someone else. Don’t step in right away. As awkward as it may be for everyone, give them the chance to work it out themselves.
Be a guide or a resource, not the person telling them what to do. In the past, when my kids have come up to me to complain about one another, I stepped right in. I’d say, “You took that toy away from him because you wanted it. But now you have to give it back.”
Turning to me to tell them what to do became their go-to move.
Now, I try to guide them through the process of resolving their own conflicts. I’ll tell the child who came up to me to tell his brother what he just said. This encourages them to acknowledge how they feel to other people.
Other times, I’ll ask them what they should do. So if a child says, “He won’t leave me alone!” I’ll respond with, “What should you do about it?” I want them to develop critical thinking to form their own responses.
If the situation gets out of hand, then I step in. For instance, the offender might still not give up the toy he just took from his brother. Or worse, they’re about to hurt one another or themselves. But I try to let them figure it out first before stepping in and telling them what to do.
6. Cope with life’s ups and downs
Like personal problems, adults need to cope with changes in their lives. They need to manage positive moments in a humble way. And they also need to pick themselves up when they’re at their lowest.
Many of us still struggle with managing life’s lows in particular. We feel helpless and can’t seem to pick ourselves up. We lack the grit and perseverance we need to keep going.
What you can do now: Allow your child to struggle. Don’t save her from every frustration, sadness or awkward moment she faces. Let her create a terrible art project because she didn’t prepare for it. It’s really okay if things don’t go their way.
Encourage your child to figure it out. Ask them what they can do better next time. What would make them feel better or help them get out of their mess?
And allow her to feel difficult emotions. We’re so quick to brush aside sadness and tell them to cheer up. We get impatient when they still feel upset and tell them to stop crying already. And we don’t give them the space and time to sit with their feelings.
Ups and downs are inevitable. Just as we have our seasons of the year, so too do we have inevitable lows as much as the highs. The lows are uncomfortable, but accept them as something we all experience and overcome.
7. Manage money
Long before I started this blog, I was reading personal finance blogs. Money management isn’t one of those things they teach at school. Sure, you learned how to write a check, but no one taught you how to manage money.
I was able to avoid money problems that can drain many college kids. From credit cards to excess spending to not saving, some young adults struggle with money.
What you can do now: Teach your child about money, even at an early age. And it’s not just about identifying nickels from dimes, either. For instance, don’t give in to her every request. She’ll learn the value of planning to spend and save for a purchase. She’ll also learn delayed gratification and how to avoid impulse buying.
Explain the cost of things. When you’re at a store, allow her to see your transactions, especially if you’re using cash. That you’re exchanging money you earned from working to buy things for the family.
And avoid highlighting money as the best thing ever. Focus on simple pleasures instead of the constant pursuit of more.
8. Take risks
Adults need to take calculated risks and weigh their pros and cons. Taking risks leads to more success than if they had done nothing.
Taking risks is also important if people want to feel confident in their decisions. It might seem safer to stay in the same place years on end, but they won’t feel good about it in the long run.
And taking risks allows a person to explore passions and interests. She’ll continue to push beyond her comfort zone if she feels confident to take that risk.
What you can do now: Don’t plan everything for your child. Look at your calendar and ask yourself if you’re scheduling too many activities. Give her plenty of downtime to decide how to spend her day. Don’t sign her up for every hobby she mentions. Make her work her keep to be able to do an extracurricular activity.
When you’re at the playground, don’t hover over your child. I was that parent who had her arms outstretched and would yell, “Be careful!” at each step. Instead, decide beforehand whether a play structure is even appropriate for your child’s age. And if it is, take a step back and don’t show your fear. Instead, offer guidance such as, “Make sure to grip the bar with both hands.”
And celebrate your child’s mistakes and failures. These lows are the only way for your child to learn and master a skill. The only way to succeed is through effort, failure, and trying again and again, even when things go wrong.
The goal of any parent is to be unnecessary through the years.
As newborns and babies, our kids depend on us for everything, from eating to using the bathroom. As they grow, they want to be more independent and forge their own paths. And hopefully, as adults, they’ll know how to do everything we had done for them when they were children.
By the time your child is an adult, these are the life skills she should be able to do:
- Talk to people
- Find her way around
- Manage assignments
- Do chores
- Handle personal problems
- Cope with life’s ups and downs
- Manage money
- Take risks
Doing too much for our kids can hold them back. As Lythcott-Haims says:
“We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to milestone and by shielding them from failure and pain. But overhelping causes harm. It can leave young adults without the strengths of skill, will, and character that are needed to know themselves and craft a life.”
No child is born knowing any of these important life skills. Instead, they learn, over many years, how to do them. First, with their parents, until finally, all on their own.
Get more tips about teaching life skills:
- How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims
- Raising a Self Sufficient Child
- 6 Traits You Can Teach to Guide Kids to Success
- 9 Simple Tips to Teach Your Child to Get Dressed
- 7 Surprising Reasons Kids Need Responsibilities
Tell me in the comments: Which of these life skills would be the most challenging to teach your child?