8 Life Skills Kids Need in Adulthood

Parenting includes teaching life skills kids need. Learn the most important things to teach before they leave home and become adults.

Life Skills Your Child NeedsIt’s hard to imagine, but our kids will be adults. Sometimes, we forget this important fact, considering how much we do for them.

Many young adults have grown so dependent on their parents for decisions they should be making on their own, like picking a major or finding an apartment. And when they face social conflict or a mean boss, they all but crumble on their own.

All because they didn’t have the skills they should’ve learned in childhood.

And this is a problem. After all, we can’t coddle our kids for 18 years only to unleash them into the real world at the last second.

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Author and former Dean of Freshman at Stanford, Julie Lythcott-Haims laid out eight essential life skills kids should know by the time they’re 18 years old. She writes in her book, How to Raise an Adult:

“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 that we, as parents of younger kids, can do now to raise future adults:

1. Talk to people

This skill 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 others.

Some young adults still struggle with speaking up for themselves. They need parents to negotiate a car loan or secure an apartment. Some are even so uncomfortable with a conversation that they don’t look the other person in the eye.

Your child will deal with professors, bosses, landlords, doctors, and so many other people. He needs to be able to self-advocate and interact with them in a clear, friendly, and professional way.

What you can do now: Teach him how to interact with others, including adults. Encourage him to make eye contact and say “hello” when someone greets him. Expect him to show respect, and stand back to allow him to speak to others.

For instance, at my 6 year old’s summer camp, parents check their kids in for the day. Normally, I stood with my son and told the camp counselor 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 next to him 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 his teachers for things you normally do. Maybe he can place his orders at restaurants or answer questions that adults ask about him (“How old is he?”). Encourage him to speak to others while you hover less and less.

2. Find their way around

Have you 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. Learning how to use resources—even a map app—can help them navigate around unfamiliar environments.

What you can do now: In the car, discuss the route you’re taking to get somewhere. My son loves maps and has learned directions, streets, and freeways. We’ll mention street names as well as which direction we’re facing.

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 like 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 your child how to safely move around public places, such as teaching him to look for oncoming cars before crossing the street.

Toddler Running Away

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 assignments, when they were due, and how to complete them.

Even managing my homework schedule 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 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 lists. And the only way to learn this skill is to practice it early on.

What you can do now: Establish routines so your child can start tasks without you having to remind him. For instance, set aside a regular homework time after eating snacks, and have him make his bed soon after waking up. Routines can take you out of the equation so he learns to do things for himself.

Once this is in place and he’s old enough, don’t remind him to do his homework. This can be hard, especially when you know he still needs to do it but hasn’t done so. Resist the urge to save him from mistakes and allow him to experience the consequences.

And don’t correct or do his homework for him. Instead, allow him to try it all on his own and ask you for guidance. A good homework assignment is one he can do mostly on his own.

4. Do chores

Your child shouldn’t learn how to do run a washing machine at 18 years old. An independent adult should be able to do basic chores all on his own, including laundry, basic cooking skills, cleaning, maintenance, and repairs.

We might think we’re helping our kids by doing chores for them, but we’re holding them back from learning life skills they should start learning. We also don’t allow them 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 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 as a necessary task like taking a bath or eating. Don’t give rewards, either. They should pitch in not for external rewards like allowances but for the joy and responsibility of helping others.

And have them 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 to help him wipe.

Kids Refuse to Do Chores

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5. Handle personal problems

Do you know adults who crumble because of nasty interactions with others? Their boss embarrassed them in front of coworkers, or they don’t know what to make of their roommate’s comment. 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 how to cope with these scenarios. We might acknowledge our emotions or wait a few days so we don’t react. Maybe we learn empathy and imagine what the other person feels.

What you can do now: Avoid telling your child what to do and instead give her a chance to weigh the situation. This allows her to own her decisions and practice making her own choices.

Don’t step in and solve her social conflicts if possible. Let’s say you’re at the playground, and you see her 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 at first.

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. 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 conflicts. This encourages them to acknowledge how they feel to other people.

Other times, I’ll ask them what they should do. If one says, “He won’t leave me alone!” I’ll respond with, “What should you do about it?”

If the situation gets out of hand, then I step in. The offender might still not give up the toy he just took from his brother, or 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

Adults need to cope with changes in their lives, from staying humble when they win to picking themselves up when they’re at their lowest. But many of us still struggle with managing life’s lows in particular. We feel helpless and lack the grit and resilience we need to keep going.

What you can do now: Allow your child to struggle. Don’t save him from every frustration, sadness, or awkward moment he faces. Let him create a terrible art project because he didn’t prepare for it—it’s really okay if things don’t go his way.

Encourage him to figure it out. Ask him what he can do better next time, what would make him feel better, or what he can do to get out of this mess.

And allow him to feel difficult emotions. We’re so quick to brush aside challenging feelings 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.

Why You Shouldn't Tell Kids to Stop Crying

7. Manage money

Money management isn’t exactly one of those things you learned at school. Sure, there might be a section about how to write a check, but they weren’t teaching kids how to manage money. No wonder many college kids struggle, from credit cards to not saving enough.

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 can learn the value of planning to spend and saving for a purchase. She can also learn delayed gratification and how to avoid impulse buying.

Discuss the cost of things. When you’re at a store, allow her to see your transactions, especially if you’re using cash. Explain 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.

Introduce her to how money works in our society, like how to save for the long term and avoid credit card debt. These conversations now can plant the seed of good money management.

8. Take risks

As an adult, your child needs to take calculated risks and weigh her pros and cons. Taking risks:

  • Leads to more success than if she had done nothing
  • Helps her feel confident in her decisions. It might seem safer to stay in the same place for years on end, but she won’t feel good about it in the long run.
  • Allows her to explore her passions and interests. She can continue to push beyond her comfort zone if she feels confident to take that risk.

What you can do now: 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, and make her work her keep to be able to do an extracurricular activity.

When you’re at the playground, don’t hover over her. I was that parent who had her arms outstretched and would yell, “Be careful!” at each step.

A better option is to decide beforehand whether a play structure is even appropriate for her age. 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.” Adult supervision doesn’t mean micromanaging.

And celebrate her mistakes and failures. These lows allow her to learn and master a skill. She can better succeed through effort, failure, and trying again and again, even when things go wrong.


The goal of any parent is to eventually be unnecessary.

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:

  1. Talk to people
  2. Find her way around
  3. Manage assignments
  4. Do chores
  5. Handle personal problems
  6. Cope with life’s ups and downs
  7. Manage money
  8. 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 our help, until finally, all they can do them all on their own.

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  1. Meghan Bailey says:

    There is so much to teach children, and it always seems as if it is not enough.
    The main thing I want to teach my child is independence. So that he can stand up for himself, but not be selfish and mean. So that he would be protected from anything that hurt me.
    A lot of life skills our children need, thank you for your interesting article.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      Independence is so important. I’m glad the article resonated with you, Meghan!