These life skills for kids help them grow into confident, self-sufficient adults.
You’ve heard the stories before:
- The good student who struggles in college — not with classes, but with living on their own
- Highly intelligent adults who somehow don’t know how to budget and wind up deep in debt
- Young professionals who let their parents call their boss because they don’t know how to stand up for themselves
As parents, a lot of our focus tends to be on academics – getting kids through school successfully with good grades.
But helping kids learn basic life skills – from doing laundry to managing money to standing up for oneself – can be equally important to our children’s success.
Without many of the skills listed below, even the most well-educated adults will find themselves at a disadvantage in both the workplace and life.
While kids may be able to acquire some of these skills in school (time management) or take classes (cooking or driver’s ed). But a few are more nuanced and require the encouragement and support of a parent.
16 Life Skills for Kids: Essential Skills Every Child Needs Before Leaving Home
Many of these fifteen life skills for kids are second nature to adults. So it can be difficult to remember which skills our kids need to learn before leaving home. This list should help! And it provides links to resources and books to get you started.
Ready to teach your child life skills? These cards can help! Each card in this eighty-one deck contains a skill your child can begin practicing with you or on their own. Click here or the image below to learn more.
Understand Money Management
Want to teach your child a life skill that could literally make or break their success as an adult? Teach them about money.
Other than education, nothing will ensure kids’ success as an adult than teaching them to be money-savvy. This includes understanding what it takes to manage money, delay gratification, the responsible ways to handle debt, how to manage a bank account, and investing for future goals.
Parents can begin to teach kids about money at a young age – as soon as they’re able to talk. Having conversations with kids about money is proven to be one of the most important ways for kids to learn.
When they’re a bit older, letting kids manage money on their own (i.e. giving them an allowance and, possibly, a bank account) provides hands-on education and will help kids understand how money works and the importance of saving towards a goal.
The Kids Money Management Toolkit has everything you need (except money!) to begin giving your kids an allowance. In addition to guidance and advice, you’ll also receive Save, Spend, and Share jar labels, a Kids Money Ledger, a Savings Challenge Sheet, a Jobs-for-Hire Sheet, and a Kids Allowance Contract. Click here to learn more.
Know How to Cook
Research shows that people who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less. So teaching kids this life skill often means setting them up for a healthier diet in the future.
Plus, home-cooked meals are often less expensive than prepared foods. So adults who know how to cook also have the ability to keep their food budgets in check.
The first step in making kids comfortable in the kitchen is give them safe and easy-to-use tools and gadgets, such a knife or vegetable peeler, for example. See 11 Tools That Turn Kids Into Confident Kitchen Helpers for a list of helpful supplies.
Thirty Handmade Days provides some great ideas for how to begin teaching kids to cook in its post, Kids Cooking Camp at Home.
And the online course Kids Cook Real Food – teaches kids all the basic cooking skills they need to become independent chefs and bakers. By the end of the course, kids will be able to cook a simple meal and make their own snacks.
Other resources include two popular kids’ cookbooks that incorporate cooking lessons alongside recipes:
Be a Self-Starter
Employers complain that recent graduates need step-by-step instructions to complete even the smallest task. Many of these graduates grew up in households where parents managed their schedule and hovered over every task.
Parental involvement is certainly beneficial to some extent. But letting kids experience some independence in their childhood, and letting them figure out a few things out on their own, nurtures feelings of self-esteem that translate into a can-do attitude.
Homework is one of the biggest areas where parents tend to hover. But sometimes it’s tricky to determine when a parent should get involved and when they should back off. This guide by Joanne Nesbitt can help: Helping Kids Become Self-Starters.
The book Can-Do Kids, written by an entrepreneur and a child psychologist, examines what it takes to raise kids who have a self-starter mindset similar to entrepreneurs.
Don’t know when it’s appropriate for kids to begin doing certain tasks on their own? Sign up for my weekly(ish) newsletter and you’ll receive this Age-Appropriate Guide to Kids’ Independence as a free gift. (Click on the image below to subscribe).
Talk to Strangers
Out in the world on their own, our kids will encounter many strangers – professors, coaches, advisors, landlords, store clerks, 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 them. 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.
Independently Manage Time
Let’s face it, there are many adults who could still learn a thing or two about time management. But the more kids understand this life skill before living on their own, the more successful they’ll be.
Managing one’s time is a skill kids need to learn in order to successfully manage a busy college schedule or assign priority to a variety of work projects.
It might be tempting to simply dictate when kids should do which activities and in what order. But 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 take ownership of their time management.
Stand Up for Oneself
Adults are often in situations where they have to advocate for themselves. For example, they may need to ask their boss for a raise, let a stranger know they accidentally cut them in line or tell a waiter that their bill is incorrect.
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 to speak up and advocate for our 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, resilience, 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 in order to problem-solve on their own. Know too that kids are watching you and taking notes on your behavior if the need comes to advocate for yourself.
For more about how parents can help kids stand up for themselves see: How to Help Kids Stand Up for Themselves
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Cope with Failure
Failure is tough. And seeing your kids fail? Even tougher.
But as difficult as it is to 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 dealt with failure may be unable to cope when a relationship goes sour or a work project doesn’t pan out. In essence, failure teaches kids problem-solving skills they’ll need throughout their lives.
“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
Find a Job
Remember the first time you put together a resume and were confused about all the “rules”? Or those feelings of uncertainty as you walked into your first interview?
There’s a protocol for finding a job, and practicing all the steps it takes to land one is a valuable life skill for kids.
Unfortunately, not as many teens are given the opportunity to work a part-time job. Priority is often given to after-school activities and summers filled with sports, classes and volunteer trips.
But as a college admissions officers told Quartz – applicants who hold jobs over the summer are far more enticing than those who volunteer at an orphanage in India or interned on Wall Street.
And there’s no need to wait until kids are teens to introduce them to what it means to work. This resource provides over 90+ ideas on how kids can make money based their different interests: How to Make Money as a Kid
To adults, the basic task of doing loads of laundry feels like second nature. After so many years of running the regular wash cycle and pressing high heat on the dryer, it’s difficult to conceive of a time when we didn’t know how to clean our dirty clothes.
But doing one’s laundry actually takes a little guidance. And no parent wants their college freshman ridiculed for not knowing how to use a washing machine.
Learn how to teach your kids how to do their laundry in nine simple steps: How to Teach Kids to do Their Laundry Independently.
Understand and Practice Personal Hygiene
It’s imperative kids understand how to take care of their body so they can stay healthy and appear (and smell!) presentable to others.
Personal hygiene is something parents model for their kids when they’re babies. Daily baths, teeth brushing, hair brushing and the clipping of finger nails are all examples of hygiene habits that are established from birth.
As kids get older, and especially when they go through puberty, kids need to know how to shower independently, how to use deodorant, how to manage facial hair, and girls need to know how to manage their menstrual cycle.
It’s important that parents establish from an early age that no personal hygiene topic is off bounds for conversation. The more kids are able to talk to parents about the issues and challenges they’re experiencing in their growing body, the better informed they’ll be in best practices of personal hygiene.
Take Care of Ones Things/Be Organized
It’s common knowledge that staying organized – having everything in its right place – can make people more successful at any given task.
Some kids and adults are naturally organized. But for those who kids aren’t, there are a few things parents can do.
Checklists can help kids keep track of tasks that need to be completed. Bins and shelving can keep toys or school work organized. And following routines, such as setting out clothes and packing a school bag the night before, can help forgetfulness.
For more ideas on how to teach kids to be organized see:
Clean and Take Care of a House
One of the best ways to teach kids how to clean and take care of a house is through chores. Simply telling kids why it’s important to keep a clean house won’t help them understand the work involved.
And let’s face it – this will pay off for your kids later in life when they have roommates or get married. Because no one wants to live with a slob.
Beyond learning practical tasks such as how to clean a bathroom, empty the dishwasher of dishes, vacuum, or take out the trash, chores are also shown to help kids academically, emotionally, and professionally. (See How Daily Chores Set Kids Up for Success in Life to learn more)
For information on kids chores see:
Interested in getting your kids started on chores? My four-lesson course will teach you how to get started, avoid nagging & power struggles, and keep your kids motivated. Click here or the image below to learn more.
Spend Money Wisely
Shopping seems easy enough – go into a store, purchase what you need and leave.
But to spend money wisely, one needs to understand the importance of delayed gratification, saving towards a goal, determining what a good price is for an item, and why it may not make sense to purchase something just because it’s on sale.
Kids can learn these hidden variables in the shopping experience if they are able to manage some money on their own. Some parents may do this with a weekly allowance, while others might choose an allowance for only certain expenditures like clothing.
Here are some other resources to help kids practice shopping and managing money on their own:
Drive Safely and Car Maintenance
Even if a teen doesn’t own their own car, it’s a good idea for them to know the basics of car ownership. Such as: how to pump gas, when the oil needs changing, and what to do when you get a flat tire.
Some of these topics will be covered in a driver’s ed class, but some will not. Here are helpful articles to make sure you cover the basics:
Learn to Swim/Water Safety
Most parents know that learning how to swim is an essential life skill for kids to keeping them safe – especially if they spend any time around water or pools.
But beyond this practical reason, swimming is also a beneficial low-impact sport that can be done throughout one’s lifetime.
Kids can begin to learn how to swim as early as 18 months when, at that point, the idea is to get them comfortable with the water. The easiest way to teach kids to swim is through lessons.
Use a Map and Take Public Transportation on Ones Own
Not every kid lives in a city, but whenever possible it’s helpful to teach kids how to navigate public transportation on their own. This can be accomplished by getting kids involved when navigating a map. Or having them help figure out which path to follow to get on 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
Other posts you may like:
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About Kerry Flatley
Hi! I’m Kerry, the mother of two girls and a certified parent educator. I believe it is possible for parents to have a supportive, loving, and warm relationship with their kids while raising them to be independent and ultimately self-sufficient. Over the years, I’ve read numerous books and articles that support this belief and I’ve put these ideas into practice with my own kids. Read more about me and Self-Sufficient Kids here.