After struggling with primary infertility, yet having a miracle pregnancy at age 35, I can assure you it was easy for us (especially me) to join our generation of “helicopter” parents who do so much for our precious children. Probably too much! As my daughter Claire approaches her 13th birthday, we have reflected on and often share stories about her that while funny, have reminded us to make sure we teach her the basic life skills that she needs to develop for self-care.
Of course, other than infant swimming classes, most of this blog will suggest skills for preschool and schooled aged children and adolescents. Benefits of chores are scientifically based and well-published.
Our first “mistake” parenting was that we didn’t let Claire climb up and down the stairs in early toddler years out of “fear” for falling or injury. We were impatient, so instead of walking alongside her, step-by-step, it was so much faster to just pick her up and move up and down floors when we lived in our 3-story home in Kansas City. In fact, I recall memories of her standing at the top of the open stairwell, arms open, looking as if she was ready for free-fall base jumping, as we rushed to get her and be her personal transport service.
We also used the sun stroller way too often. She just didn’t like to walk and we pushed her everywhere! I am not saying to stop using a stroller, but I hope you will encourage your child to physically move starting early in life.
As children learn each skill, they will continue to practice and develop depth and competency in each area as they grow.
LIFE SKILLS FOR KIDS AGES 1-2 YEARS
Eating at the table.
Healthy eating habits start at mealtimes. Teach children they should sit at the table with adults. Mealtime requires sitting together at the table, not in front of the TV, throughout the house, next to toys, snacking anytime, anywhere, etc. Even snack time outside of the house should be limited to a morning and afternoon snack, and minimize developing a habit of grazing whenever and wherever on sugary foods like fruit snacks, yogurt covered raisins, candies, highly refined or processed items, like processed mini muffins, donuts, cookies, etc.
LIFE SKILLS FOR KIDS AGES 3-5 YEARS
Planting seeds and growing plants.
By learning to water plants and getting their hands dirty potting flowers with you, young children can learn about earth, worms, life and the importance of plants as a part of our life on earth. Children can develop a strong love of nature and the outdoors if exposed to it frequently and early in life. Tell them stories about your own gardening experience, involve grandparents who love gardening, and consider enjoying trips to botanical gardens to let them smell flowers.
Washing their hands regularly.
Teach your child to wash their hands before and after going to the bathroom, before and after eating, after playing in the playground or any activities that involve touching multiple surfaces, playing with pets, and frankly anytime they are exposed to other children’s snot, spit, or whenever you as a parent may little feel hands should be cleaned.
Cleaning toilets and wiping surfaces.
By the time kids enter kindergarten, they are often capable of brushing the toilet using a toilet brush. You may have to help with the toilet bowl cleaner. Children can use a wash clothes with gentle soap and water to wipe the surface of a table or counter top clean. Most toddlers love walking around with a broom or mop, and a Swiffer mop can be quite fun for a toddler.
Verbalizing how they feel physically.
Teach your child to verbalize how they are feeling: sleepy, tired, hungry, thirsty, aches and pains in various body parts, a sensation of being “full,” etc.
LIFE SKILLS FOR KIDS AGES 6-11 YEARS
Picking produce/fruit and grocery shopping.
It's never too early to teach children names of various vegetables and fruits, and how to pick ripe versus unripened fruit. Talk to them as you go through each aisle, the various sections such as meat, dairy, and bakery, so that you can share your rationale behind your purchasing decisions. If children ask for an item, explain why you feel the item is a good purchase or not. If they have food allergies, this exercise will help you teach them to learn how to read ingredient lists and avoid what they are allergic to.
Writing THANK YOU cards.
Manners are quickly fading. Teach your children to write and mail thank you cards to those who gift to them, and also get in the habit of calling family members, like grandparents or others to express “thanks” whenever appropriate. Raising grateful children is key to developing grateful adults.
Cooking healthy meals.
Children love playing in toy kitchens, with plastic foods and utensils. Once they are this age, you can share graduated responsibilities with children and get them interested in the preparation of meals and snacks, especially family meals. Younger children can help:
- Toss fruits and salad ingredients in a bowl.
- Use a whisk to mix up eggs or pancake, cupcake, or brownie mix.
- Crack an egg into a bowl.
- Make a simple sandwich such as PB&J, or other healthy nut butters, hummus, or sliced banana and PB sandwiches.
- Prepare snacks by pouring pretzels, crackers, or other items into a bowl.
- Getting water from the refrigerator into their own cups or cups for adults.
- Setting the table with utensils (no sharp knives of course).
- As children approach age 10 and understand how to avoid injury from the stovetop, they may be able to help make scramble eggs or stir fry vegetables.
- Children love making smoothies by putting ingredients in the blender.
Cleaning out their backpacks, room and toys.
Routine weekly emptying out of their backpacks to get rid of unnecessary papers, decide what artwork to keep, and to choose which school projects to save is important. Cleaning up under their bed any items that shouldn't be there, like toys, clothes or garbage, and choosing which of their toys to donate to Goodwill or to give away to a toy drive, local church or organization, especially after birthdays and holidays, teaches your child to keep their space clean and to give generously to others.
Taking care of pets.
If you have a family pet, perhaps you can teach your child to help take care of them, like walking small dogs, helping to scoop dog food into their bowl, feeding the fish, providing fresh water, and picking up pet toys.
Treating a wound.
Teach children how to clean abrasions with soap and water, then apply antibiotic ointment, like Neosporin, and cover with a bandaid to help the healing process and prevent infection.
If children are exposed to individual or team sports and activities early, talk to them about the importance of exercise, keeping the body active and how it makes humans healthy by improving sleep, regulating appetite, supporting healthy bones and helping their growing bodies.
Whether it’s birthday money or earned allowances from chores, having a piggy bank and teaching the concept of saving what they receive for delayed gratification will instill in them the importance of “saving.” If they do save what they earn, then openly discuss how they can or want to use their money to purchase something they really want. As children get older, continue to talk about the concept of saving money for college—that parents save to help support their child’s education but the child should also save.
LIFE SKILLS FOR KIDS BY AND AFTER AGE 12
Doing the laundry.
Show children how to sort clothes, how to use a washer and dryer, how to use dryer sheets and the laundry detergent, and what the different cycles are for.
Taking care of personal hygiene.
Discuss with your children the use of deodorant, daily showers, frequency of hair washing, how to use shampoo and conditioner, lotions, and personal grooming as they experience puberty and beyond.
Learning how to read a Nutrition Facts Label.
Visit the blog I wrote on this topic here. Teach children that every 4 grams of sugar equals 1 added teaspoon and how much sugar is in sugary beverages and common foods. Discuss sugar addiction, importance of drinking water, and how to make good choices.
Washing a car.
Practice how to wash and dry a car, clean the windows, and even vacuum the inside! Taking care of items that we rely on daily is important so that we learn to create the environment we want to live in, at home and elsewhere.
Take the time to teach children how to help themselves and help the family. This way they will not be dependent on fast foods and others to live a healthy and engaged life of their own.