Were you ready to be completely independent at age 18, or even 21? Were you prepared to pay for your living expenses, prepare meals, alter your clothing, or fix things around the house? Most children graduate from high school knowing how to read, write, and do basic math. But to be a self-sufficient adult, can be a struggle because many children today lack essential life skills which are often learned from doing chores. According to celebrated TED talk presenter Julie Lythcott-Haims, “professional success in life, which is what we want for our kids … comes from having done chores as a kid.” Unfortunately, many of our children spend too much time in front of screens and are too overscheduled these days to have time to learn life skills at home. But I want to tell you how to change this.
I knew a bright and capable college student who moved out into an apartment with her boyfriend. They quickly figured out eating out every meal was too expensive and wanted to cook at home. They decided to make spaghetti one night for dinner and became frustrated by the instructions on a can of pasta. Neither one had any idea how to open the can and prepare the dish. The young woman called home and after some coaching from mom got the can open, and the pasta poured into a pan on the stove top. While I was listening to this story, I couldn’t help but think that if either of these children had been taught life skills while still living at home, they would not have found themselves in this predicament and could have avoided this unpleasant experience and any shame involved.
How can we avoid this situation with our children?
As parents, we try our best to help children become happy, well-rounded, functional adults. In our ever-changing world, this is growing increasingly difficult. The influence parents have over their children continually competes with peer influences. While it is natural for children around the age of 12 to begin to pull away from parents and to look to other sources for social cues, that “pulling away” is now accelerated by the presence of social media, in the lives of adults and children. We recommend that life skills start being taught between the ages of three-four because, by the time a child is twelve, it may be too late for a parent to instill a new skill because at that age procedural memory begins to decline.
Procedural memory, also known as motor skills, is a part of the long-term memory that is responsible for knowing how to do things. Procedural memory stores information on how to perform specific tasks, such as reading, walking, talking, and riding a bike. When needed, procedural memories are automatically retrieved and utilized to complete tasks involving both cognitive and motor skills. Procedural memories are accessed and used without the need for attention or conscious control and are created by repeating an activity over and over again until all of the relevant neural systems work together to automatically produce the activity. For example, tasks such as getting dressed or learning how to make a simple meal becomes second nature after completing them a few times.
Some life skills if taught early enough, can help a child accel beyond his or her peers as a young adult, because these skills increase the development of critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity skills. It may also make teenage years around the house more pleasant for parents as children will have the skills to contribute and be a more present member of the household. Many skills such as cooking, sewing, pet care, using tools, laundry, organization, money management, and cleaning if not learned by the age of twelve may not be acquired until a child is in their twenties, if ever.
Incorporating life skills into daily life not only helps children develop critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication skills, it also gives kids a purpose and contributes to their happiness as adults. According to Inc. Magazine, the Harvard Grant Study, which is the longest-running longitudinal study in history, (spanning 75 years and counting–from 1938 to the present), revealed that two things are needed for adults to be happy and successful: love and work ethic. Giving and receiving love is essential for a child’s well-being. But we must first show children the meaning of love so that they can share it with others. You can teach children how to love by performing random acts of kindness together.
Children can have some fun dreaming up simple, small gestures of love and affection. For toddlers, this can include smiling and waving at your neighbor or decorating a coloring sheet to give a friend or family member. Remember to teach your children that random acts of kindness can also be anonymous. Showing children that recognition is not required is a great lesson for life.
It is equally important to teach a child the importance of a good work ethic. One useful way to help children develop work ethic is by assigning age-appropriate chores. A child that is two to three years old can assist in making their beds or putting their dirty laundry in the hamper. A child four to five years old can pick up their toys or help a parent carry light groceries. Children six to seven years old can vacuum individual rooms or make their bed on their own. A child eight to eleven years old can wake up using an alarm clock and prepare a few easy meals. By age 12, a child should be able to take care of personal hygiene, belongings, and clean their room and family areas.
A child who knows how to cook or clean has a reason to participate with the family and can take on responsibility around the house. They can also possibly turn this skill into a job where they are compensated for their work, encouraging independence and self-sufficiency. Acquiring appropriate life skills will help children feel empowered, help develop high self-esteem, and aid in socialization and reasoning skills.
Life Skills LoL believes that it is important to introduce students to these life skills at an early age, so they are equipped with the skills to deal with the demands and challenges of daily life efficiently and transition into adulthood more easily. Their student-centered activities focus on integrating problem-solving, and decision making into every interaction so that students can translate knowledge, attitude, skills, and values into action. One of the things we find useful is giving children chores, as you teach them how to do new things. Chores not only teaches them essential life skills but helps them develop independence and work ethic. A pdf download at the bottom of this article will provide you with our favorite chores and life skills activities.
If building life skills interests you, I suggest checking out our programs that are held weekly at our facilities in New York (East Meadow, Long Island, and Hollis, Queens) or we can bring our life skills into your home or school.
Want to grab our Life Skills Checklist? Click here to download. It also includes a task list and extra chores that you easily modify to fit the needs/desires of your household.