Life skills your kids should know

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Colleges and employers alike are reporting that young people can't do life's most basic tasks.

With all of our emphasis on academics and what it takes to get into college, essential life skills, such as how to do laundry, balance a checking account or cook a meal, have been overlooked.

"Life skills are essential for your child to learn how to be independent and become self-sufficient," said Lindsay Hutton, editor at FamilyEducation.com. "Appropriate life skills will also help your child feel empowered, help develop his self-esteem, and aid in socialization and reasoning skills."

These essential skills, which used to be taught in home economics courses at school and by parents at home, have fallen off the radar.

That has led to college students who are unable to do laundry, among other basic, yet essential, tasks.

What should kids learn and at what age? In general, children should know how to care for a house, yard and their belongings. For younger kids, break a larger task down into manageable chunks and gradually increase responsibilities until the child is doing it on her own. Role-playing scenarios and chores around the house are a safe and easy way for kids to learn these skills.

Here's a partial list of those key life skills, suggested by Hutton and other parents.

Elementary school

• Personal safety: There's a reason kids are still taught to know their full name, address and phone number in elementary school — safety. Hutton said that knowing how to make an emergency call is also important.

• Care of self: Children should know how to wash themselves, brush their teeth, get dressed and take care of personal hygiene in the early grades of elementary school. Bedtime and morning checklists can be helpful in keeping them on track.

• Talking to others: Children need to know how to look people in the eye and carry on a polite conversation. Kids can practice by ordering food at a restaurant, paying for items at a store and asking a librarian for help locating a book.

Middle school

• Being home alone: Hutton said knowing how to be safe when at home alone is one of the most important skills to teach middle-school-age kids.

• Kitchen safety: Kids should know how to use the stove and knives properly, as well as what goes into cooking a meal. Assign your tween one evening a week to cook for the family to allow him to practice these skills.

• Label reading: How to understand a label, such as laundry instructions or the dosage on common medicines, is an essential life skill.

• Managing social situations: Janet Perez Eckles of Orlando taught her children how to have positive social interactions in a three-step process. First: When meeting anyone for the first time, offer a firm handshake with eye contact and a genuine smile. Second: Show interest by asking questions about their work, family, hobbies, etc. Third: After listening attentively, give feedback about what was shared.

High school

• Money management: Mary L. Hamilton of Waco, Texas, started teaching her children to be responsible with money by giving them an allowance when they were preschoolers. She built upon that foundation when her kids hit their teen years by setting up bank accounts for them, with both a savings and checking account.

• Responsible driving: This extends beyond keeping the car between the white lines on the highway. Teens should know the dangers of texting (or drinking) while driving, how to pump gas and how to add air to or change a tire.

• Time management: Juggling school assignments, extracurricular activities and a social life can be challenging for any teen. Tips for managing time well include knowing your time wasters (social media, video games, etc.); assigning smaller, incremental deadlines for big projects; and scheduling down time to maintain a good school/work and life balance.


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