Kids and teens need to experience these ten life lessons before heading out into the world on their own.
To see more ideas on how to raise confident, independent adults see: 15 Life Skills Kids Need Before They Leave Home
As adults, we’ve experienced what it takes to be successful in life – which means we certainly know more now than we did in school.
So logically we want to pass that knowledge onto our kids.
We want our kids to know how to stick up for themselves, handle disappointment and failure, resolve conflict, and manage time and resources. And because we know how to do these things, it feels like our responsibility to make sure our kids are getting it right from the very beginning.
So we wake them up for school in the morning, talk to their teachers about an unfair grade, ask their soccer coach why our kid hasn’t been played this season, and hover over our kids as they complete their homework.
The problem is that by doing all these things for our kids, we aren’t letting them learn the way we did – simply by living our lives, making decisions and choices on our own, and facing down our fears.
While our kids are at home we have the opportunity to coach and mentor them – not meddle in their growing independence. We have the opportunity to be a listening ear for when they face a challenge and support them as they think through their own choices and experience the consequences.
10 Life Lessons Kids Need to Experience Before They Leave Home
Here are ten life experiences we need to let our kids have on their own before they leave home – so they can learn the important lessons of each and live with confidence in the world beyond our doors:
Talk to Important Adults and Self-Advocate
Adults are often in situations where they have to advocate for themselves – asking a boss for a raise, letting a stranger know they accidentally cut them in line or telling a waiter that he didn’t add up the bill correctly.
These situations can sometimes be tricky, but imagine if we’d never been given the chance to practice standing up for ourselves – with teachers, coaches or peers?
While it may be tempting at times, and occasionally necessary for parents to speak up and advocate for their kids, this should be the exception, not the rule. Instead, embrace opportunities for kids to take the lead, and stand up for themselves. These moments will help build kids’ confidence and set them up for greater success as adults.
Parents can also coach kids through tricky situations by being willing to listen and offering advice if it’s asked for. Sometimes kids just need to talk about difficult situations about friends or teachers in order to figure out the solution on their own. Know too that kids are watching you and taking notes on what you do if the need comes to advocate for yourself.
This is a great story about what can happen when parents let their kids discuss challenges with important adults on their own with no parental involvement: When Your Child is Ready to Quit, Tell Them This
Want to help your teen become more independent? Click on the image below to get your own Parent’s Guide to Teen Independence. You’ll also be signed up to my weekly-ish newsletter with more parenting tips about raising self-sufficient kids.
Talk With Strangers
Out in the world on their own, our kids will encounter many strangers – advisors, landlords, store clerks, hairdressers, waiters, managers, and co-workers just to name a few.
Our adult kids need to know how to look these people in the eyes, clearly communicate with them and possibly even advocate for themselves if need be. But if kids have never been encouraged to speak to strangers on their own – if their parents have always spoken for them – kids’ communication skills will be stilted which could, among other things, come across poorly in a job interview.
And that advice parents give to kids about “not talking to strangers”? Stats show it’s more likely your TV set will fall on your child’s head than a stranger will abduct him or her. Try a different approach that lets kids know that not all strangers are bad. For example, one Mom told her kids that if they ever get lost to look for another mom with kids – she’ll be most likely willing to help.
People who aren’t afraid to confront conflict end up being more successful in both their working and business relationships. Unaddressed conflict breeds resentment and hinders progress.
Seeing your child in a challenging situation with peers or important adults can be painful. But each time we insert ourselves into a conflict – big or small – we are robbing our children of the chance to build the social skills necessary to address conflict in a way that is both respectful and self-advocating.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t serve as coaches when kids come to us with their relationship issues. One of the best ways we can be supportive is to try to help our children think through the appropriate words to use and which steps to take if a situation isn’t getting better.
Bullying is another matter and a situation where it might make sense for parents to get involved. This guide can help: School Bullys: When Parents Should Get Involved
Being respectful doesn’t always come naturally to kids – they need our help to understand the right way to communicate their frustration or disapproval.
Parents can help kids learn how to be respectful by talking to them about appropriate ways to respond. A few ways that parents can help kids learn how to respectfully disagree include:
- Modeling respectful disagreement – either with spouses, friends, or store employees
- Letting kids know that it is OK to disagree but that they need to express that disagreement in a respectful manner
- Coaching kids on the respectful way they could disagree with you (if appropriate you could also point out that you are more likely to agree with them if they talk to you in a respectful manner)
- Make sure kids feel that they are heard when disagreeing with you. Anyone who feels that their position is not being heard is more likely to dig in their heels rather than discuss the issue at hand.
Learning how to talk to other kids and adults in a respectful manner without fear pays dividends in adulthood when disagreements arise between spouses, co-workers or employers.
Failure is tough. And seeing your kids fail? Even tougher.
But as difficult as it is to sit on the sidelines and see our kids make mistakes – failure is full of big lessons.
As Jessica Lahey, author of the book “The Gift of Failure” says, when parents correct their kid’s mistakes, they’re helping in the moment but ultimately doing harm. Kids who have never had to deal with failure find themselves unable to cope as adults when a relationship goes sour or a work project doesn’t pan out.
“All this swooping and fixing make for emotionally, intellectually, and socially handicapped children,” she writes, “unsure of their direction or purpose without an adult on hand to guide them.”
Read more about the importance of letting kids fail here: How to Give Your Child the Gift of Failure
Certainly, no parent would want to thrust their child into a situation just so they can experience disappointment but often our parental instinct is to shield kids from the downtrodden feeling that comes from events not turning out the way we expected.
Trying to appease kids with excessive affection or even giving them gifts as a way to protect them from feeling disappointment may seem to help in the short term but could ultimately do more harm than good. It’s healthier for kids to sit with their disappoint and reflect on their emotions to hopefully problem solve how to avoid disappointment in the future (if possible).
Appeasing kids may send the message that you don’t think they’re capable of handling and overcoming setbacks.
That said, disappointment is a difficult emotion and some kids may quit or reduce their effort after experiencing it. Parents can support and coach kids through their disappointment by asking: “I know you feel bad right now, but what can you learn from this experience?”
Other ways that parents can help include:
- Make sure your kids know that you love them through both their successes and stumbling blocks
- Try to offer a healthy perspective on disappointment
- Help kids try to find a way to overcome the causes of their disappointment
- Assure kids that they will get over this disappointing stage and can achieve their goals through hard work
Make a Big Decision
Once our kids are out in the world on their own there will be many big decisions to make. Which college major to choose, where to work, where to live, and who to keep as company.
It can be tempting to make decisions for our kids – which classes to take, which sports to pursue, how to spend one’s summer – and while we may feel we know best, making these decisions for our kids sends the message that they are not capable of making good choices on their own, weakening their self-confidence.
Instead, parents can act as coaches – making it clear that the teen or child is the one who ultimately makes the final decision (within reason, of course) – but providing some guidance and perspective they perhaps haven’t considered.
The opportunities are endless as far as kids activities go. It really is possible for kids and teens to be constantly busy or entertained.
But building some time into the week or vacations when nothing is planned or scheduled can be so valuable to kids. Research shows that it’s during downtime that creativity flourishes and people are able to reflect on their emotions, relationships, challenges, and life in general.
We all know adults who go a mile a minute but have yet to find peace and happiness within. Letting our kids see that downtime can be rejuvenating will help them see the value in slowing down and feeling peaceful in their lives.
Let’s face it, there are many adults who could still learn a thing or two about time management. But the more kids understand how to manage their time before going off to school on their own, the more successful they’ll be.
Managing one’s time in order to get out the door in time for school and prioritizing homework over playtime are all lessons kids need to learn in order to successfully manage a busy college schedule or later, determine in which order to get work projects done.
While it might be tempting to simply dictate when kids should do which activities in what order, kids will learn best if they’re able to practice time management independently.
Bullet four in this article, Don’t Procrastinate! Teach Your Child Time Management is an especially helpful tip for getting kids to begin taking ownership over their time management.
Not every kid lives in a city, but whenever possible it’s helpful for kids to get a sense of how to navigate public transportation on their own. This can be done by getting kids involved when navigating a map or having them help figure out which path to follow to get to the right train.
Or you could do as the Japanese do and let your kids go on errands as young as 2 or 3.
But if that’s too young for your taste, it’s still worth considering some of the advantages of letting kids roam safe neighborhoods and cities on their own, as this Atlantic article points out: Let Your Kids Ride the Bus Alone
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