While sometimes we wish they’d stay babies forever, eventually babies become kids, and kids become adults, and adults need to know how to take care of themselves. Every family has their own approach for teaching kids basic life skills: some parents have no problem taking care of all of the household business themselves, figuring that the kids should “be allowed to be kids.” Others maintain that not only are chores necessary for teaching self-care and consideration for others, but it also bolsters their self-esteem and helps them to feel important in the family.
It seems that more parents are taking the no-chores point of view these days; a 2014 study says that 82 percent of parents said they had regular chores as kids, but only 28 percent assigned similar duties to their kids. The result? Kids head off to college not knowing how to wash their own laundry, or how to prepare a basic meal. These skill gaps can get pricey, too, if you have to replace clothing or hire a tailor instead of mending tears and lost buttons!
While I try to resist editorializing in these pages, experience has led me to believe that it’s better to know at least a few basic life skills before you head out on your own: while I knew how to wash dishes and how to run a vacuum cleaner by the time I headed out for college, my mom had never let me anywhere near the washer and dryer! Given that laundry machines are pretty straightforward, it shouldn’t have been a huge problem, but I remember feeling terribly intimidated the first time I brought a pile of clothes to the dorm laundry room.
So, let’s go through a list of some of the life skills you might want to begin teaching while the kids are small, and make sure they’ve mastered before they have to live independently. They may not thank you now (and they may never thank you for it at all), but it’ll make their lives a little easier in the future. And hey… you’ll have less to do around the house, too.
Keep in mind that the age ranges below are not strict recommendations. You know your child best, so you’re the ultimate authority on when they’re ready for assorted duties!
Lauren Hill of Mama’s Laundry Talk has done a LOT of laundry with kids, given that she has five, so I think we can trust her list of age-appropriate laundry tasks for the little ones. Lauren suggests that your kids can master some or all of the following:
- Toddlers: Put laundry in the basket after they take it off; pretend to fold laundry (since they love to imitate you at this age)
- Age 5: Put away clothing, strip sheets
- Ages 7-8: Learn to use the washing machine
- Ages 11-12: Do all laundry tasks independently
Except for, maybe, folding fitted sheets, which almost nobody knows how to do. This video can help!
As we’ve already noted, cooking with your kids is a fun way to bond, and teaches a lot of fun skills in addition to the cooking essentials: they get to practice math skills, learn patience, and learn the importance of following directions.
Start early, anticipate (and forgive) messes, and choose age-appropriate recipes and tasks. By the time they’re ages 10-12, your kids may be able to cook dinner on their own – and that means they can cook for YOU.
While few people know how to make their own clothing these days (or would even want to), being able to sew on a button, adjust a hem, or sew up a rip are all important skills that will keep your grown-up kid from having to constantly purchase replacements.
Dollmaker Lisa Press suggests starting to teach your kids basic sewing skills around ages 6-9; she says that it’s an age when they’ll be eager to learn new skills, won’t be too frustrated with the time that it takes to get good at it, and when they’ll be eager to make clothing for dolls and plush toys. Check out videos of the five basic stitches here at Lifehacker! (Don’t know how to sew? You and your kids can learn together!)
As for other household repairs: I’m not sure I agree with writer David Agrell at Popular Mechanics that your kid needs to know how to use a soldering iron or a chainsaw (!!!). But they’ll definitely need to know how to use a hammer and pliers, and learning how to use a power drill is handy as well. After all, Ikea bookshelves are tough enough to assemble for those of us WITH working knowledge of tools!
Minor wounds happen, and while you’ll probably be there to kiss most boo-boos, kids should know that bruises need to be iced, and that a minor cut should be rinsed and disinfected before applying a Band-Aid.
Robin Jacobs at EarthEasy.com suggests teaching very basic skills around age 4, but you can start teaching kids to call 911 as soon as they can recognize the numbers. Even very small kids can save a life – or, if they’re not clear on what a real emergency is, they can cause a lot of (adorable) confusion!
This is a pretty big one: it’s quite possible that since you’ve been invisibly, behind the scenes, paying all the bills and making food magically appear on the table, that your kid may embark on their college career without the foggiest idea what all of those numbers on the student loan statement mean, and what they’ll mean for their ability to pay rent after they graduate.
Your approach to this issue may vary, but it’s a good idea to incorporate some of the ideas from this Forbes column: kids should understand how and why to save money, how to make good spending choices, and, when they’re teens, what their education will cost and how to negotiate those numbers. Paying kids an allowance that may or may not be contingent on chores might be a good way to teach money management skills, depending on your values. One way or another, they’ll need to know!