Life Skills: 5 Tips To Help Your Child Make It in the Real World

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Note to readers: You can listen to Kimball Lewis discuss this article in an interview on the Parenting ADHD and Autism Podcast with author and parent coach Penny Williams.

If your 10-year-old child has ever shown you how to work your computer or phone, you know that the generation we are raising now is bright and full of promise. They’re good with technology—they know how to use phones and computers. But that doesn’t mean they have practical life skills.

Kids have to learn how to talk with adults appropriately. And they need to develop the skills that will eventually get them through stressful situations with bosses, customers, budget crunches, and tasks that require perseverance and problem-solving. Indeed, a major cause of behavior problems is the inability of a child to handle life’s basic problems. So how do our kids acquire these essential life skills?

1. Have Your Child Do Adult Tasks

You can start now by giving them responsibilities and letting them practice doing adult things. There are no set rules on what a child of a certain age should know. It’s a judgment call. The idea is to get them doing adult tasks early and often. Here are some ideas:

  • Do laundry from start to finish. Learn to sort clothes, measure detergent, when to use cold versus hot.
  • Make a sandwich. Chop vegetables for a salad. Make dinner.
  • Wash dishes and use the dishwasher.
  • Do the grocery shopping.
  • Mail a letter. Yes, it’s still necessary to mail letters, and most kids don’t know how to do this.
  • Let your child buy something at the convenience store by themselves while you fill the car with gas.

In determining the appropriate age for the above tasks, think about what your child is already capable of doing. Is working a washing machine more complicated than today’s smartphones? Probably not. If your child can figure out Fortnite, they can certainly learn to use the dishwasher or make a sandwich.

As you go through your day, be on the lookout for tasks that you take for granted but would be a new and useful experience for your child.

2. Teach Your Child How To Interact With Adults

If you have a 7th grader, they probably have plenty of practice interacting with other 7th graders. But the socialization they get in junior high school doesn’t necessarily translate to the real world. Therefore, don’t rely on the kids at school to socialize your kids—you may not like how it turns out.

Where kids need practice—and this is critical—is interacting with adults who are not their parents, relatives, or peers. Learning to interact with adults is how kids will eventually learn to ask for a job, talk with bosses, and deal with the public.

So the next time your daughter needs to return some jeans at the mall, instead of taking them up to the sales clerk yourself, consider coaching her through it, from walking up to the counter, to showing the receipt, to making sure she gets the correct amount of money back.

Let your 13-year-old call the pizza place to order take-out. They will be nervous making the call at first, but they will be comfortable when they’ve done it once or twice.

When my sons were adolescents, we took several long car trips that required us to stay in a motel. As it got near the time to stop for the night, I had them call several motels nearby to inquire about vacancies and whether they allowed pets (we traveled with our dog, Tess). The boys didn’t want to make the calls—they were nervous and didn’t know what to say. But I had them do it anyway. I coached them on what to ask and taught them some motel terminology they would need to know (for example, vacancy, pet-friendly, continental breakfast, AAA discount). We then rehearsed a bit. The first couple of calls were predictably awkward. But, as they made more calls, their fears faded, their words flowed better, and just like that, they knew how to find a motel room on their own.

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It was evident to the motel clerks that my kids were young, which I think helped the situation. In general, I’ve noticed that adults are much more patient with young kids who struggle to communicate than they are with other adults. Once a person reaches their twenties, people are much less forgiving if you don’t communicate well. A twelve-year-old who struggles with their words is cute. Not so for a twenty-year-old. That’s why starting young is an advantage.

You’ll be more patient and understanding if you initially set low expectations for your child’s communication skills. They may know much less than you realize, and they may need a lot of coaching. Most of us forget that there was a time when we struggled to interact with adults. Thus, we take communication skills for granted and have unrealistic expectations that our kids will know how to do this instinctively.

3. Expect Anxiety When Kids Do Adult Things for the First Time

Most adolescents get anxious when they have to do something for the first time. They worry that they will look foolish, say the wrong thing, or won’t be able to think of anything at all to say. Their anxiety then leads to procrastinating and avoiding unfamiliar situations. This anxiety-induced procrastination explains why many adult kids are at home and not working—they lack the confidence and experience to ask a stranger for a job. And the older they are without having this skill, the more embarrassing it is.

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I personally believe the esteem movement had done a disservice to many kids. It’s better to teach your child to humble themselves and learn to accept feeling awkward and embarrassed in new situations. That’s how real life works, and it’s not helpful to shield our kids from it. Their esteem will grow once they’ve gained actual skills and experience.

4. Be Patient When Your Child Messes Up

Don’t criticize your child when they mess up. For example, if you don’t like how your child interacted with an adult, gently correct them. If you get angry, it discourages them from talking with adults in the future, and they won’t get the practice they need. Of course, if your child is outright disrespectful (on purpose), then you should give them an appropriate consequence.

5. Teach Life Skills to Strengthen the Parent-Child Relationship

Teaching life skills is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your child. It’s time well spent and can lead to a stronger bond. Many of us fondly remember learning from a parent or grandparent how to bake cookies, fish, or change a tire.

Learning life skills doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be fun. It’s an opportunity to spend time together, strengthening your bond through a shared experience. My kids loved it when I would take them to a big, empty parking lot and let them drive the car when they were age 13.

Even if it isn’t all fun, the memories can be valuable. Your child will look back with pride in overcoming challenges and doing difficult things.

Finally, expecting and encouraging your child to do adult things shows that you have confidence in them and care about their growth and development. With enough practice, it will become natural.

About

Kimball Lewis is the CEO of EmpoweringParents.com. In addition to his leadership and management roles, he contributes as an editor, a homeschooling expert, and a parent coach. He resides in Orlando, Florida, with his wife and two teenage sons.

Comments (10)
  • Maria
    Hi i love your articles. I am a mum of a 22 year old son. our mistake as parents was not have implemented boundaries when they were young. i need your help how can we impose boundaries when he has depression and anxiety or behaviour disorders? More he will not open up to us, but has a friend who is not a good influence, made him use drugs, there could also be other unhealthy behabiours on sex. He used to be smart, sweet, but completely changed now. he wants to finish his degree i am worried that he might not. He lives with us. How can I help him?
    • Kimball Lewis, CEO
      Hi Maria, I'm sorry you are having these struggles -- it's hard as a parent to watch our kids struggle and make bad decisions. A good next place for you to start is to check out our articles on adult kids living at home. I commend you for reachingMore out and learning about these issues as there is help and guidance for those like you who are looking to make changes. And it's never too late to make changes, we see kids change all the time. Warmest Regards, Kimball
  • Jennie
    I just looked at the student to counselor ratio for the USA… There’s 471 students per counselor! No wonder our kids aren’t getting the life skills they need to do well after school. Usually all they need is a push in the right direction so they know they’reMore capable of succeeding.
  • Liza
    It’s an interesting time… most schools teach in order to do well on standardized tests, and many of the life skills they once taught are gone. The number one skill most kids tell me they want to learn is how to be more confident.
  • KWood
    Totally Agree,my 18 yo daughter didnt know how to address an envelope or where to put the stamp.She is a "Taker" whhen it comes to me,I say this because she will most always talk with me when she needs something or needs information,other than that I dont exist.She doesnt careMore for my needs and wants just her own.She is a very smart Teen but is Clueless on Finances,How to repair simple things and spends Money like water.Any money she earns working is gone within 2 days,I know because I see her FB and having Dinners Out all the time when she is suppose to save.This Generation feels "Entitled" she always refers to a Friend like she stated a few weeks ago "Parents are supposed to Pay for there Kids College" I almost fell on the floor.I was brought up earning my own way,paid for my bills and paid Rent even before 18,always had a Job and Money in my Pocket.i wouldnt be where I am today if not for hard work,no one ever handed me anything.You try and make there life easier or better than your own when you were a Teen but in my Case Im totally taken advantage of and my Wife feels this is how it should be and she came from South America and worked hard,i dont get it.If there were no Cell Phones these Kids would be Lost.I never went to College but had a High Position before Retiring and still work today when I dont have to.
  • JohnnyShi1
    Unfortunately I have to agree completely with you. I think it is important for everyone to learn these skills. Without them people become helpless. A basic skill that everyone should have is changing the tire on your car. It is necessary for today's society. I think helping teens learn theseMore skills will also help build good relationships.
  • Generation gap

    Generation gap: I like these helpful cues . I will try to find new ways to enhence my sons' self confidence . Knowing that anxiety &fear maybe the cause for his lach of guts to get himself a job.

  • Papa of six

    I remember my then-eleven year old step-son asking my why the men (my father-in-law and me) were doing the dishes after a holiday meal. When I told him I had been doing my own cooking, cleaning and laundry since I was a teen, he was astonished! He now has childrenMore of his own and now understands the importance of teaching them to be somewhat self sufficient.

  • Gee3
    Very good article. My son is 15 and although he can do few things like ironing, housework and making a few healthy meals, there are some other things that I hadn't thought about teaching him, like using the washing machine and DIY.
  • astorbeck
    so true, we have gotten our youngest son involved in boy scouts and recently 4 H to try to learn more life skills. Also he will be heading for vocational classes in High school.
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