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Life Skills Every Child Should Learn Before Age 12

I am a freelance writer based in Oregon. I'm a work-from-home dad of four amazing kids and husband to a true warrior.

Learning to wash dishes teaches children the importance of cleanliness.

Learning to wash dishes teaches children the importance of cleanliness.

True Story

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 stovetop.

Life Skills Kids Should Know by Age 12

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 12, 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 12 may not be learned until a child is in their mid-20s, 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.

Doing laundry is a life skill

Doing laundry is a life skill


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. By age 12, 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.

Using Tools

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.

It 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.

Get children started early on physical activity.

Get children started early on physical activity.

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 the time a child is 12, 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

Working Together is the Best Way to Teach Skils

Working Together is the Best Way to Teach Skils

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?

Fast Feedback

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.

© 2013 Jason McBride


Mary from Chicago area on August 26, 2014:

As a mom of teens, I would advise those with younger children to start teaching/coaching this skills sooner rather than later, in age appropriate ways of course. My kids are much better now with those household responsibilities we introduced around 5 or 6 than those we've just given them in the last year or two.

Ellyse Mae Tadifa from Philippines on August 18, 2014:

Great post! I loved it. I have a 7 year old son and I will use this article as my guide.

Your post is very interesting and very useful for parents. I hope to read more like this.

Rosetta Slone from Under a coconut tree on August 17, 2014:

Love this article! One of the things I'm most grateful to my parents is the work ethic and life skills they gave me. I was cooking full meals by the time I was 8, and could do the laundry shortly thereafter. When I moved out of home, I adapted easily to paying bills, keeping the house clean and eating healthy meals. But my housemate, a 30 year old with a PhD had to ask me how to cook a potato once! He couldn't even boil water without an electric kettle.

Raine Law Yuen from Cape Town on June 19, 2014:

I had a friend who at 43 could still not boil an egg - she had a son who had to prepare all his own meals since he was very young. I think we develop mental blocks around things that we were not exposed to as kids. Lovely clear writing style.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on November 19, 2013:

As I read this I realized that I had learned all these important lessons, but I don't remember where I had leaner them. As a child I fixed things around the house. I guess I saved my parents a lot of money on repair bills. As I recall, my father let me get my hands into things. He allowed me to get to know how things worked. I think that's how I learned to use tools. However, I don't recall how I picked up the knowledge of cleaning, etc. It may have been from observation.

Ashley Suddreth on November 10, 2013:

You are absolutely right. I am a product of being raised by a grandmother who, being set in her own ways, would rather do everything in the house herself instead of have me help. Now that I am a grown adult and married, I often have a hard time. My house is always a mess, and I am trying to teach myself the skills that I was never taught as a child. I am not trying to place blame because I am grown and capable. It just would have been easier if someone had taught me those skills as a child.

Tina from Wv on November 08, 2013:

This article hit home. I know my son was in trouble when he could download an app before he learned to tie his shoes. Since then , we have taken a more hands on approach. He helps me with chores almost every time he is with me now....

Gabriela Hdez from Valencia, Spain on November 04, 2013:

Plus this keeps them entertained and helps develop common sense.

Great article!

sugunajey on November 04, 2013:

I wonder about this article. I like to follow your steps to my kids.


Jemuel from Cebu, Philippines on November 04, 2013:

This is a great post, no wonder it was chosen as HOTD.

I totally agree with you, kids should be taught simple household chores like washing the dishes, doing some laundry and the like. They will have an edge over the others when they become adults caused they have developed and established a sense of responsibility.

wabash annie from Colorado Front Range on November 04, 2013:

Totally agree that 'kids' need to learn real life skills at home. I remember that my mother, when cooking or canning on the farm, had me recite things like the world's countries by continent and the capitols of each. When my own children were in school, they would do similar things, such as recite the times table, states and capitals, measurement equivalencies, etc. When teaching, I found out that many were unable to do this. Thanks for writing about this topic!

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on November 04, 2013:

Jason, first of all, I congratulate you on this HOTD award. Second, I applaud you the content of this hub. Like you, I have been concerned about the lack of information that kids have today about real life situations. In 2003 I spent 9 months with my mom, dad, and nephew, whom they were raising. Mom had a recurrence of cancer and I moved in with them to assist. One of the first things I observed is how the 9 yr old was so crippled by his dependence on my mom and dad doing everything for him. I began a 'mission', of sorts, to explain to my parents that he was behind in his application of life skills. This particular mission was continued following the deaths of my parents in '03 and 08. My nephew moved in with me in '09 and I immediately spotted gaps in his ability to function independently.

The 'project' continued for 4 years while he went through h.s. It was an amazing challenge, but it was one done with love. I taught him laundry skills, cooking and chores. I also made sure he was able to read directions and understand them. I tackled his self esteem issues, his trauma re: abandonment and death, and his anxiety. I've written several hubs about these topics.

Today, he is living in a shared apartment with one other student and attending the Art Institute in that area. He has successfully completed his first quarter and is halfway through his second. We are in phone contact and he knows he can call me for support. And, yes...he is another one who didn't know how to open a can with a manual can opener, but to his defense, he had neurological trauma at birth that has effected his ability to coordinate some of his movements.

Well done on your hub. UP/U/I and shared.

Kari on November 04, 2013:

I've been expanding my habits lately and really understanding how they play a crucial role in my happiness, and so I can totally see how all kids can benefit from building life skill habits that can transcend into many more positive habits.

Plus, there is nothing worse than meeting a 40 year old who doesn't know how to run a dishwasher or do laundry. (Trust me, I know a guy who is like this!)

Sharon Vile from Odessa, MO on November 04, 2013:

Wonderful advice! I would add that I think it's best to work WITH your child, rather than just telling them to go do something. Often they don't know how, and, even more important, they crave your attention and physical nearness.

I once had a little girl help me dig sweet potatoes. Just being willing to spend time with her give her a sense of accomplishment (and praise)--well, it was like it was a gift that child had never been given. It gave her so much joy.

Lee Tea from Erie, PA on November 04, 2013:

I've found that spending my days teaching my children and having them work alongside me not only teaches them, but teaches ME, and is exactly where I want to be :) When I decide to let my kids be part of my day instead of trying to do things AND entertain them separately, that relieves a lot of frustration that otherwise usually develops.

My 8-year old can catch and cook her own trout lol, and has been skinning buck with daddy since 2. She's a very beginner hunter and so am I, so we're learning that one together. Yesterday on our day home I let both my lil girls make pigs in a blanket and peach crisp with me. They also love to SWEEP the FLOOR! Figure I better let them before THAT phase passes lol...I'm sure it won't last long!

Joshua Patrick from Texas on November 04, 2013:

I wholeheartedly agree with this Hub - now, more than ever, we need to teach children how to live life outside of the technological world, which is mostly an illusion anyway. Great hub, voted up and across!

SEEMA AQUA on November 04, 2013:



but i am 23 years old....

good information

thanx for sharing...

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on November 04, 2013:

Great hub, totally agree. My father taught me to use a screwdriver, saw and hammer but my mother never taught us to cook, because "it takes more time than to do it myself!" An assistant in the local vegetable shop told me a story one day. She said one of her customers phoned her up one day and asked her what sort of turnip she had sold her daughter. The assistant was puzzled and then the mother laughed and said that her daughter had phoned her to ask how long turnip took to cook and said she had been boiling it for 40 minutes and it still wasn't done! The daughter had not peeled and cut the turnip into pieces before boiling, she had put the whole turnip in the pot to cook!

Cindy A Johnson from Sevierville, TN on November 04, 2013:

My child is now 17. He's still not very good at organizing and cleaning but he does well with laundry, cooking and the dishes. These are great tips.

Koralee Phillips from Vancouver British Columbia Canada on November 04, 2013:

Great advice! Especially teaching your children to use tools, you never know when you need a handy person with a tools set. Plus getting a head start on safety is always a good thing.

Teaching them to write a business letter is also a brilliant idea. A business letter is perfect for both organizing thoughts, and helping with essay and article writing.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on November 04, 2013:

I loved this hub. Thank you for this encouraging article which promotes the value of teaching children responsibility, not only in the home, but in their future lives. Too many youngsters have adult slaves who do everything for them which devalues their problem solving skills and sense of accomplishment.

When I was raising my stepson, I had a system of coupons that were awarded for certain tasks, like turning off the light when he left his room, or stripping his bed when it was soiled. He could exchange the coupons for certain toys he wanted to have that were assigned a value in coupon amounts.

He absolutely LOVED to run the washing machine and begged to push the buttons, even at five years old. He learned from feeding the dog that others had needs, too. The school counselor came to the house and lectured me on the negatives of making him do chores. I kicked her out of the house.

Donna Herron from USA on November 04, 2013:

Great hub! These are obvious but important basic skills that most children (and ALL adults) need to know. I'm glad my mother taught me daily life skills like how to write a proper thank you note and make out check (it might sound strange, but she would sometimes drop us off at the dentist with a signed blank check and have us fill it out for payment information). I think a 12 yr old should also know how to sew a button on a shirt and repair a simple rip on the seam of a piece of clothing. Congrats on your HOTD!

Jordan Hake from Southwest Missouri, USA on November 04, 2013:

This is a great hub! Too many people take their role of parent flippantly, I like your encouraging people to step up to the plate!

Being a kid who grew up in a house with chores, I am thankful to my parents that I had such work to do, because I can confidently go throughout day-to-day life and know what I'm doing.

I know from talking to others who experienced it first-hand: if you're trying to shelter your child from work, you're not doing him/her a favor.

Great job!

Michael Murchie from Parts Unknown on November 04, 2013:

Great Hub full of brilliant advice. I had the type of upbringing where I didn't even make my own bed until I left home. That was a shock I can tell you! My 2 daughters will grow up right, with chores and helping to prepare food. Big ol' Rate Up :)

Veenoo from India on November 04, 2013:

Good information Jason, my son is 6 and this will really help me.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on October 14, 2013:

Bravo! I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying here. My oldest daughter told us that one of her friends had to do the laundry by herself one day, but had never been taught. The girl was 18 years old, and she put the dry laundry soap and clothes in the dryer and turned it on! What a disaster!

In our home, our children learned young to be involved with housework and kitchen skills. It has been a great boon to all of them, now in their 20's and 30's, and they are teaching their children to do the same.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on October 13, 2013:

it is true. My kids don't know how on the TV since I always do it for him. Yup, i should stop doing everything for him. It is time for him to learn. Thanks