Beyond Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic: Life Skills I’d Like My Children to Know
by Danielle Rice
As my children head into their teen years and prepare to leave home in the not-too-distant future, I think about all the knowledge they’ve acquired and formal education that has helped to prepare them for success. Through school and home, they’ve learned well what most parents would want their children to know: manners, being a good friend, self respect, and of course, reading, writing and arithmetic. As a parent, I’ve focused much of my time on supporting their formal education and making sure they have a solid foundation to build on.
Still, there are some other basic life skills that I’d like to see my children acquire before they head off into the big, wide world. Many of these are things that adults might take for granted and it might not even occur to us to teach them to our offspring. We may have just learned them by trial-and-error and assume our children will as well. Taking the time to teach a few life skills can help teach your children to be socially responsible, independent, and successful adults.
Here are a few of the life skills (in no particular order) that I’d like to make sure my children have mastered before leaving home:
- Daily money management. Even if your child has no income or expenses when living at home, and you might intend to support him financially for quite a while, it’s still important for him to understand the basics of money management. In today’s world of ATMs (magic money dispensers?) and online banking, the tangible aspects of using and managing money can be hard to grasp – and this is one area especially where it’s not so great to learn by trial and error. Before leaving home to live in a dorm or apartment, young adults should know how to prepare and follow a budget (including how much of a paycheck to save and how to budget for annual bills such as taxes and insurance); understand how to apply for, use and track a credit card (and the consequences of misusing credit); know the differences between credit cards and ATM and the pros and cons of each; and know how to write a check (it’s just possible paper checks could still be around!). It would be a good idea to open an account with your child before he leaves home, but if not, be sure he understands how to make deposits and withdrawals at a bank, including the security issues and necessity of protecting private information.
- Basic car maintenance. If my Dad’s reading this, he’s probably laughing since I know, well, almost nothing, about car maintenance. So what do I propose to teach my children about this subject? I’m talking really basic: how to pump gas (and what kind to use), how often oil changes are needed and where to get one, and when and how to check tire pressure (before heading out for that long road trip or return home from college, for example). Just the minimum needed to keep that vehicle moving. It’d also be great to know how to change a flat tire and use jumper cables, skills I could probably use a refresher on myself! (And, ok, I’ll confess that I don’t know how to check tire pressure – so maybe my husband can teach the children and me at the same time!)
- Meal preparation. Parents often get into a routine of taking care of our families so well that we don’t take the time to show our children how to care for themselves. You won’t always be around to cook for your child – and who knows if he or she will be likely enough to find a roommate or companion who cooks. So, children can benefit from knowing the basics of planning a meal, making a shopping list, and preparing some easy recipes. I’m not talking gourmet – just simple things such as spaghetti, tacos, or crockpot chicken – something simple and inexpensive so they can feed themselves on a semi-regular basis without relying on fast food or mac-and-cheese from a box. In addition, having kids help out in the kitchen can be fun family time.
- Household chores. Perhaps you have a chore chart or ask your children to help keep their rooms clean. Do they also know how to load and operate a washing machine/dryer/dishwasher, clean bathrooms, make beds, and mop floors? These skills will certainly be appreciated by your child’s future roommates and help her to be a more responsible adults. And of course, encouraging your child to pitch in with the housework now has the added benefit of lessening your own daily workload. It’s a win-win for all!
- Mail correspondence. Yes, I’m referring to snail mail. I was surprised to find out recently that my children don’t know how to handwrite or address a letter. With the prevalence of texting and email, they’ve just never had the need I guess. I’ve encouraged them to write thank you notes, but then addressed and mailed the notes myself. It’s important for kids to know when a handwritten note is more appropriate than email and how to address an envelope, purchase postage, and mail a letter. You just never know when that handwritten note will make the difference in securing that new job, cheering up a friend, or connecting with far-away family.
- Conducting a job search. Whatever your child’s post-living-at-home plans involve, she’ll eventually likely need to get a job. Conducting a job-hunt can be frustrating for anyone, and without any experience in this area, it can be down-right discouraging. Before your child needs to find a job, talk with her about the process: how to search for a job and complete a job application; how to write a basic resume (and how to update it with new education and work experience); how to act and dress when interviewing for a job or inquiring in person about job openings. These skills are important not just in the career world but also for a teen who is looking for a part-time job or when interviewing for colleges or scholarships.
- Cell phone etiquette. If your child doesn’t have a cell phone yet, it’s almost guaranteed he will before long. Cell phones are a reality of life, and yet, how often do we talk with our children about cell phone etiquette: how to use a cell phone in public, when not to use your cell phone, or how to politely take an important call when you are with others.
- Healthy habits. While you have some control or influence over your child’s diet, exercise, and hygiene, encourage her to develop healthy routines that will become healthy habits in adulthood. Set a good example by preparing healthy family meals, practicing good daily hygiene, and exercising with your child. It’s much easier to learn and practice healthy habits as a child than it is to fix bad habits in adulthood (or deal with the effects of years of poor choices).
Your child may be years away from leaving home, but today is a great time to start teaching grown-up life skills. Learning life lessons such as sharing household chores, managing money, interacting with others, and leading a healthy life style can help ease the transition from childhood to independent adulthood.
Danielle Rice, founder and publisher of Piedmont Family Magazine, is the mother of three children (ages 17, 14, 11) and enjoys writing about all stages of parenting from babies to teens.