Teaching Kids Life Skills
I am super forgetful. Even from a very young age, I knew I needed to be organized and loved having a school planner, because otherwise, I just forgot stuff.
I think my forgetful tendencies have driven me to really hone my organizational skills and develop systems to stay organized and remember everything I need to.
I share this because it’s important for you to know that being organized is something that I’ve worked at. It’s a skill that I’ve intentionally developed and it’s become easier with time.
Similarly, the skills our kids will need as adults are things that they can start to work on now. By involving them in the process from a young age, you are setting them up for a less shocking entrance into the “real world” and also making your home life easier by having everyone contribute.
Before You Begin
Make a list. Think of this as a goal sheet. What specific skills do you want to teach your kids this year? If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas for age-appropriate household tasks for kids.
Involve your kids in this list making process. See what they are interested and eager to learn. Start small and focus on 2-3 skills at a time.
Now that my kids are older, I usually try to teach my kids to cook one breakfast, lunch, and dinner item each summer. Then, throughout the school year, they can continue to work on mastering those dishes. My oldest has taken over Sunday night dinners and makes pasta for the family each week. I love having the night off cooking and he feels good about contributing to our family in that way. Each summer we add one more dish, so at least by college, he’ll know how to survive on pasta and ramen. 🙂
My kids range in age from 10-16, and over the years we’ve worked on things like typing, sewing, laundry, filling out forms at the doctor’s office, making phone calls (I have them call to order our pizza on Friday nights), paying for things at the store, making change, grocery shopping, packing for trips, mowing the lawn, weeding, planting, cleaning the house, taking out the trash, and emptying the dishwasher.
Think through how you will break down the steps (the method I use is included below) and set aside time to show them. Put it on your calendar like you would any other event; it will hold you accountable.
Also think through what happens when they’ve mastered the skill. If your child works best with positive reinforcements (most do) it can be nice for them to know they get to pick a special dinner or have a movie night to celebrate their new accomplishment. If the skills you are teaching build on one another, know which task you’ll add on after they’ve got the first one down.
After you tackle the first skill, also take some time to reflect. What teaching methods worked best? What tools would be helpful for them to be more independent in their task (maybe a checklist, or a small caddy with any supplies they need)?
I’m not going to sugar coat it – it can take time to train kids to do household chores properly. You have to be patient and really hold their hand through the process in the beginning. The younger you have them start helping you with small tasks, though, the better it will go as they get older. Just keep in mind that your investment in training them comes back to you ten fold!
Summer is a fantastic time to introduce a new skill. More time together and more time at home means more time to practice. Think about how many skills your children could have even if you only introduced three new things each summer!
Just like you did when you potty trained, think through your timeline. Don’t start teaching a skill right before they head off to a sleep-away camp or to spend a week with family. They may not have time to practice and you’ll have to start over when they return.
Teaching the Skill
I follow a pretty standard teaching method when introducing a new task. It’s based on the classic “I do, we do, you do” model.
Step one. You do it, while they watch. Talk them through it. Explain what you are doing and why – even the smallest things. If you have a checklist for the job, go through it with them step-by-step. Let them ask you as many questions as they have. For complex tasks, you can repeat this step several times before you jump to step two. The goal here is to get them familiar with the steps of the process with no pressure. Don’t have them help at this stage; just watch.
Step two. Let them try it, while you watch (or even help). Jump in to assist as needed. They’re not going to do everything perfectly, and that’s ok. Use a lot of praise and correct gently when they don’t do something quite right. Explain why they need to do it a certain way.
With very young kids, this stage may come naturally as they see you doing things and want to be involved. Keep it fun and let them help, even if it can be frustrating. When it comes time for step three down the road, you’ll thank yourself!
Step three. Let them try it on their own. Come to inspect afterwards. If they’re hesitant, run through the steps ahead of time, give them a checklist if necessary, and remind them of any tricky parts. Just like in step two, gently correct as needed and give lots of praise for what they did well. This inspection phase will last until you are comfortable with them moving on.
Step four. Give them independence to complete the task(s) on their own. Woo hoo! It’s time to celebrate their new accomplishment (and the free time you just gained back)!
I hope you will try this method with your kids! If you do, let me know how it goes. Teaching kids life skills may seem daunting, but breaking it down into manageable steps makes it easier on everyone. I promise it’s worth all the effort!
If you want to take a deeper dive into this topic, check out “How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims. It’s one of my favorite books on this topic.
In my next blog, I’ll be taking a deep dive into teaching kids how to do laundry. I always share my blogs first in my newsletter, so be sure to sign up if you aren’t already. You can get reminders on Facebook and Instagram.
If you need more tips to help you get through the summer, be sure to read my End of School Year Organization post and my Summer Survival tips.
Have a great summer and happy organizing!
Each of my career choices-wedding coordinator, event planner, and teacher — gave me the creative freedom to organize everyone and everything. I have always thrived on to-do lists, planners, and systems! Now, I lead a team of organizers to help me on my mission. Read more…