Parenting includes teaching life skills your child needs in adulthood. Find activities and ideas to make learning life skills easy and effective.
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.
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Her book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, sheds light on how little they can do for themselves because their parents had so much for them. At Stanford, she saw how dependable they’d grown on their parents, from picking a major to finding an apartment. And when they face social conflict or a mean boss, they crumble.
All because they didn’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. We can’t wait until they’re teens to master 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. She 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 is a teenager and that he had his earphones plugged in, fingers and eyes glued to his phone. He didn’t even bother to cross the street carefully, relying solely on his mom to do that for him.
If our kids don’t learn to cross the street on their own, what else are they missing out on?
8 life skills your child needs in adulthood
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. Here are the eight life skills your child needs, and how to help her learn them today:
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 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 are even so uncomfortable with 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. She needs to be able to interact with them in a clear, friendly, and professional way.
What you can do now: Teach her 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 to allow her to speak to others.
For instance, at my then-six-year-old’s summer camp, parents check in their kids 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 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 answer questions that adults ask about her (“How old is she?”). Encourage her to speak to others while you hover less and less. Practicing these skills starts now while she’s still young.
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—will 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 her how to safely move around public places, such as teaching her 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 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 him. For instance, set aside a regular homework time after snack time, and have him make his bed soon after waking up. Routines will take you out of the equation as he learns to do things 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 isn’t doing it. 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 laundry at 18-years-old. An independent adult should be able to do basic chores all on her own, including laundry, cooking, 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 know by now. 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 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 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 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 wipe.
Free printables: Struggling with getting them to do their chores? Want to develop good habits from the start? Join my newsletter and download your Printable Chore List templates to help you organize chores!
5. Handle personal problems
Do you know adults who crumble because of a nasty interaction 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 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.
What you can do now: Avoid telling your child what to do and instead give her a chance to weigh the situation. This will allow 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?” I want them to develop critical thinking to form their own responses.
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 perseverance 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.
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 us how to manage money. No wonder many college kids struggle with money, 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’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.
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 them to how money works in our society, like how to save for the long-term and avoiding credit card debt. These conversations now will 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 years on end, but she won’t feel good about it in the long run.
- Allows her to explore her 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: 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.”
And celebrate her mistakes and failures. These lows allow her 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 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:
- 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:
- How to Get Kids to Do Chores (Without the Constant Reminders)
- 9 Simple Tips to Teach Your Child to Get Dressed
- 7 Surprising Reasons Kids Need Responsibilities
- How to Teach Your Child to Make Good Choices
- How to Motivate Children to Do Their Best
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