In our efforts to ensure our kids get the best start in life, our focus as parents and carers is often centered around education and career prospects. We want our children to be successful and happy, to not have to worry about money, and to build a home and family for themselves. All these things depend so much on the jobs they choose, so it’s truly no surprise that we concentrate on their schooling to the extent we do. If you are assisting in every way you can to further your child’s education, be proud of what you are doing and continue your efforts; but make sure you’re also helping with another vital element of their future success – life skills.
What are life skills?
Being academically or vocationally able is only half the story when it comes to succeeding in life. In addition to being able to understand the complexities of chromosomes or the physics of the internal combustion engine, children need to learn how to cope with all the everyday things in life that they will have to contend with. There are practical skills such as budgeting, cleaning and cooking, taking care of themselves, having pets, dealing with taxes, etc. Then there are the interpersonal skills; human communication, relationships, self-awareness, social skills and social responsibility. Without understanding how to manage these areas of their lives young people can struggle to cope with adulthood and all its associated responsibilities.
If you aren’t showing your child how to boil an egg or the best ways to clean a bathroom, you aren’t doing them any favors. While they can find out how to do it by trial and error or by watching a video on YouTube, they will be facing multiple challenges like this every day in their lives when they leave home. Anything you can do to make things easier for them when they start out will save them time and stress – and probably a couple of hours cleaning a congealed mess off the inside of the microwave after they find out the hard way that it’s not advisable to try and boil an egg in one. Involving kids in all the household chores is an important part of their learning. Firstly, so they know how to undertake all these practical aspects of running their own home, and secondly, so they can appreciate the amount of time and effort that goes into producing freshly laundered clothes and drawers full of sparkling cutlery.
Is teaching practical skills that important?
You could argue that if they work hard enough on their education, it won’t matter because they’ll have a well-paid job and can just pay someone else to do it all. That might be true, but to become a well-rounded member of society, you need to understand what life is like for others and have an appreciation of the effort it takes to perform these menial tasks. So, don’t spare the kids from housework, make it a part of their routine and show them the positive aspects of doing chores, like the sense of satisfaction you get when you complete a cleaning task and everything looks pristine.
Being able to budget so that your expenditure doesn’t exceed your income is one of the hardest lessons for young people to learn. If you think about it, most of them have spent their lives not having to worry about finding money to pay for essentials like food, power, water, clothes, and healthcare, let alone other living expenses like electronics, phones, furniture and appliances, cars and so on. They won’t have had to deal with taxes or insurance, or licenses, or any of the other examples of bureaucracy and red tape that make up modern life. The more you can show your kids what all this stuff is about and why it’s important, the better they will be able to cope in the real world.
Kids learn a lot of their social skills as they grow up as a matter of course, from interacting with adults and other children and being told what behavior is appropriate and what is unacceptable. This learning happens naturally and is an integral part of their school and home life, needing little conscious input. Your role as a parent is to be their guide to understanding acceptable social behaviors and to give them as much opportunity as possible to experience different social situations. The more they can experience in a safe and supported environment, the better equipped they will be to cope with daily communications and interactions with other people. You should observe how your child is developing in these areas so that you can pick up on any difficulties they are having. Anxieties, autism spectrum disorders, mental health problems, and behavioral problems are all becoming more readily acknowledged, and there is help available if your child is having trouble dealing with communication and interpersonal skills. Early intervention can have very positive outcomes and will benefit your child in the long run.
Aiding development of interpersonal skills
There are many ways to develop your child’s skills in these areas, so use any methods that you find most helpful for your family. Children can learn a lot from reading, and many stories and novels for children and young adults are valuable social skill books, showing the consequences of different kinds of interactions and investing them with meaning, as the child identifies with the book’s characters. You can also help kids develop their self- awareness and social responsibility traits. Encouraging empathy, discussing difficult topics together or viewing documentaries covering international events and news programs will all contribute to your child developing a sense of their place in the world. If they are made aware of the diversity of cultures and the variety of living standards across the globe, they will be more likely to take a role in being active for the common good.
Helping your kids through school and on to college or a career is a primary role for parents and is one of the most important things you can do for them. If you can match this with educating them in life skills as well, you’ll be giving them the best possible start to their journey into adulthood.