Life Skills Every Child Should Learn Before Age 12
I knew a bright and capable college student who moved out into an apartment with his girlfriend. They figured out eating out every meal was too expensive and wanted to cook in their apartment. They were stumped by a can of green beans. Neither one had any idea how to prepare the beans. The young man called home and after some coaching from mom, got the can open and the beans poured into a pan on the stove top.
As parents we are trying to raise children and help them become happy, functional adults. In our ever-changing world this is increasingly difficult. The influence parents have over their children is in stiff competition with media and peer influences. While it is natural for children to begin to pull away from parents and to look to other sources for social cues and survival information, that “pulling-away” is now greatly accelerated with the ubiquitous presence of media, including social media, in the lives of both children and adults. By the time a child is twelve it may already be too late for a parent to instill new values or skills.
There are some life skills that if taught early enough, will help a child be far ahead of his or her peers as a young adult, and will make the tween and teen years more pleasant around the home as they will have the skills to contribute to the household. Many of the skills if not learned by age twelve may not be learned until a child is in their mid-twenties, if ever. All children, regardless of gender, need the following life skills.
Loading and unloading a dishwasher may seem like common sense, but once you have had a sitcom-worthy moment where you walk into the kitchen to see suds pouring out of the dishwasher because someone used the wrong dish soap, you realize some things have to be taught. Learning to wash dishes helps teach children the importance of cleanliness, and begins to open their eyes to the amount of work it takes to keep a household going. Learning to properly wash and dry dishes by hand is also a great skill, as even in the 21st Century, many apartments lack a dishwasher.
Let Children Help
Teach Children to Fold Laundry
Learning to do laundry can actually begin at preschool age. Once a child knows their colors they can help sort dirty clothes in preparation for washing. One strong advantage of teaching children household responsibilities early in life is they begin to see them as a normal part of the routine and not as tasks to dread or to avoid through violent fits of temper. The older children get the more they can participate in laundry. They can learn to fold and put up laundry, especially their own. Lastly, by age twelve children should be able to completely do a load of laundry from start to finish. Learning to do laundry, especially their own laundry, not only keeps a child from accidentally ruining their white shirt, but also helps them understand the amount of work involved with a family. It also helps teach personal responsibility.
Do your children have chores?
All children should not only know what the basic tools are, but they should also know how to use them. Children should be able to safely use a hammer, saw, screwdriver, pliers, and a wrench. This is another skill that can be taught to very young children. Let a toddler hold a screwdriver while you work on something. Children love to help and be part of fixing things, let them, don’t chase them away. A great side benefit of knowing how to use tools is a basic understanding of how many things work. If you can use basic tools you can fix anything from a broken sprinkler pipe to a busted doorknob. The confidence gained from being able to repair things helps spur additional problem solving skills. Learning to repair instead of simply replace is also important in protecting our environment and in avoiding wasteful consumerism.
This skill is lacking in many adults. Organization is something that some are naturally able to do better than others, but that anyone can master with enough practice. Organizing is another problem solving strategy. Organizing includes the ability to categorize and sort a variety of objects. Teach children to have a place for everything in their room. This makes it easier for them to keep their room picked up, and it teaches them a skill that is useful in the workplace. Another part of organization is time management. Once children know how to tell time, they need to be taught how to master it, before it masters them. This is one of the more abstract life skills, but also one of the most important.
What About Childhood?
I believe kids should play. I think we generally place too many demands on our children’s time. But, I also believe that children need to learn work ethic and learn life skills while very young. It may be better for our children to be involved in fewer activities outside the home, and more activities inside the home. Teaching a child to do dishes and to clean is not making them into a domestic slave, it is teaching them independence and self-confidence.
Cleaning is not the same as picking up. Cleaning is vacuuming, dusting, and disinfecting. Learning to be clean, and just as important, learning to be accountable for one’s own messes, will make your child a better roommate and a better spouse. A future husband or wife will be eternally grateful to you for teaching your child how to clean a bathroom. Learning to clean also helps teach collective responsibility. Everyone in a family, just like everyone in a community, plays a part in the health and wellbeing of everyone else. Individual actions impact everyone.
Many Choices for Physical Activity
Participate and Enjoy at Least One Sport or Physical Activity
Life in the 21st Century is sedentary be default. One key to avoiding a life of health problems is to teach children to love physical activity. Every child is different in his or her skills and abilities, but there are so many choices, that with enough effort, there is a match of a sport or physical activity for everyone. Getting a child involved in soccer, softball, lacrosse, dance, horseback riding, running, swimming, tennis, hiking, or whatever else you decide helps with mental development as well. The human body thinks better when it is regularly in motion. Participating in new activities can also open up a child to new friendships and communities. If a child isn’t involved in something physical early in life it is very difficult to get them active later. By them time a child is twelve, if they try to join a sport or activity, the other kids their age will already be skilled and have been involved for years. This makes it almost impossible for your child to catch up. Nobody wants to do something they feel they are no good at.
Prepare a Simple Meal
Children’s love of helping can be put to good use in preparing meals. Children can shuck corn, peel vegetables, microwave food, and mix and stir ingredients from a young age. Learning to prepare a simple meal, even if everything comes out of the toaster and microwave, not only helps your child become independent, but also helps them learn to manage an activity with multiple steps. Learning to cook will also help your child eat healthier and cheaper when they leave your home. This skill boosts confidence and also teaches the importance of shared responsibility.
Family Preparing a Meal
Write a Letter
The letter may seem like an artifact of the pre-Internet world. However, letters are still used, even if they are often sent as a PDF. Cover letters are still needed to get jobs, and lots of formal business is still memorialized in letters. Learning to write a proper business and personal letter teaches a child how to organize their thoughts. Writing a letter is different from an email. The use of more formal language and forms helps teach manners and provides a different way to look at communication. It turns out people really like receiving old-fashioned snail mail. Have children begin by writing to people who will write back, people like grandparents or aunts and uncles. Relatives love getting mail, and children will be thrilled when an envelope shows up with their name on it. In a world where everything is instantaneous, there is something beneficial about communication that takes weeks to unfold.
How to Write a Letter
What life skills do you think are important for children to learn? What do you wish your parents had taught you?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2013 Jason McBride