Last Updated on January 9, 2024 by Sarah McCubbin
Each stage of growing up has different life skills for kids and teens to know. We often assume that our kids will learn what they should, but not everyone picks up skills naturally.
If you have a child or teen that is struggling in one area or another, it can be helpful to review a list of skills to see what seemingly obvious skills they might be missing.
As parents of 9 kids, we have had many seasons where something wasn’t clicking with one kid or another. Maybe they smelled (ah…the preteen years) or maybe they just struggled to fit in with other kids. We have some great stories of kids blowing through money and making poor choices there too.
In hind sight it all works out, but in the middle of the situation, it can be hard to know how to help our kids! In almost every case, it has meant that we needed to SLOW DOWN and get really intentional about helping them learn the missing building block that they needed.
Ideally, by the time they leave our houses, our children will have the life skills the need to be independent. Many life skills build on each other and many can be taught very young.
I personally have found that the best time to teach a new skills is when my kids are motivated to do it. Sometimes they have internal motivation…and sometimes its an outside motivator driven by a new opportunity they want to access…like driving a car, having a birthday party or looking like they fit in.
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Life Skills Build Trust With Parents
As our kids grow and develop, it is common for them to go through seasons where they distrust out advice as parents. Maybe they perceive we are trying to control them. Or something they just want a chance to try it their own way.
As a mom, I want my kids to make good choice and always hope to save them from mistakes…if only they would listen.
In my experience, taking the time to intentionally teach life skills builds trust with our kids at all ages. After all, we are helping them to accomplish THEIR goals.
Have a toddler that wants to “do it myself?” Teach them how to dress themselves, pick up their toys and fold towels.
Have a child that wants more friends? Now is a great time to teach social skills.
Have a child that wants a job? Teach them interview skills, people skills and financial skills.
The list is endless. But when we teach skills at the RIGHT TIME, it builds trust with our kids as they realize we are helping them…and not just giving them another job to do.
Lets take a look at a comprehensive list of life skills our kids need before they launch!
Life Skills For Kids and Young Children
These are foundational skills that our kids can learn as early as 1 year old! Some parents teach their children basic sign language before they can talk so their children can learn to listen and respond. Of course this builds from there to much bigger and better skills. But we can start when they are small to let them take ownership of these skills in their life. Praise goes a LONG way in encouraging little kids to practice these new skills!
- Personal Hygiene: Teach children the importance of washing hands, brushing teeth, and maintaining basic personal hygiene habits.
- Dressing Themselves: Encourage kids to learn how to dress and undress independently, including putting on shoes and coats.
- Cleaning Up: Guide children to clean up after themselves, including putting away toys, books, and other belongings.
- Sharing and Taking Turns: Instill the value of sharing toys and taking turns in group settings to develop social skills.
- Basic Manners: Teach children simple manners like saying please and thank you, greeting others, and using polite words.
- Emotional Awareness: Help kids recognize and express their emotions, and teaching them simple coping strategies for managing feelings.
- Listening Skills: Encourage children to listen when others are speaking and follow simple instructions.
- Safety Rules: Educate kids about basic safety rules at home and in public places, such as looking both ways before crossing the street.
- Healthy Habits: Introduce children to healthy habits like eating fruits and vegetables, drinking water, and engaging in physical activity.
You children can learn foundational life skills from the time they are very small. They will continue to build on those skills as they develop over the years. As a mom of many, one of the biggest benefits of teaching life skills when they are young is the early independence. As our kids learn how to do things on their own, they don’t need to always as their parents for help which frees up valuable energy as a parent!!
Personal Care Life Skills
Often some of the very first life skills we focus on are personal care related. We want our kids to be able to take care of their physical bodies! Often simple sticker charts are a great way to develop these simple habits while they are young. Of course, all your best efforts may go out the window at some point if they decide bathing isn’t cool…but that stage doesn’t last forever (thank goodness!!) and they will revert back to what they learned earlier.
Hygiene: Teach children to brush their teeth, bathe regularly, wash their hands, and take care of their personal hygiene.
Personal hygiene can sometimes feel like a constant battle…especially if you have several children at different ages and stages. It can be difficult to navigate because our kids might feel embarrassed if we tell them they smell bad…or are dirty.
After I’ve tried the “gentle” approach a few times, I tend to shoot pretty straight…”You need to take a bath because you smell bad.” That might seem direct, but one of the things we talk about in our house is that we as parents have always had their best interest in mind. We are looking down the road trying to help them avoid pitfalls.
And we will be more honest with them than the general public every would. Then we regale them with stories from our childhood about ourselves or others who needed better hygiene…and who nobody told. Which is better…to be stinky and not know it…or to have someone tell you so you can do something about it?
Dressing Themselves & Clothing Choices: Encourage children to learn how to dress themselves, including putting on and taking off clothes, tying shoelaces, and zipping up jackets.
When kids are young, we try to buy clothes that are easy for them to put on and take off themselves. And as they get older, its important to help them make clothing choices that support the activity they are doing comfortably.
One of our sons got in the habit of sleeping in his jeans with a belt on. Then he would complain about not sleeping well. Um…yeah. Put on pajama pants. He fought us on this for awhile!!
Our daughter has attended several school formal events. And the most recent one, she ordered a dress that was shorter than I preferred. Interestingly, she wasn’t that comfortable in the dress either. She was constantly aware of how she moved in the dress and tugging at the skirt. It made it harder to relax with her friends. That is something we will always talk about going forward because it actually affected how she was able to enjoy spending time with people!
Grooming: Teach children how to comb their hair, trim their nails, and maintain basic grooming habits.
This is a skill that has to be taught and retaught at different ages and stages. Some kids respond better to getting their hair cut by a barber. Others enjoy the promise of a reward or complements. Pay attention to what your child tunes in to!
Healthy Eating: Educate children about making healthy food choices, preparing simple meals and snacks, and understanding portion sizes.
It can be hard to teach kids about healthy eating sometimes. After all, food is everywhere and sometimes it can feel hard to control. While we teach our kids about healthy food, it is equally important to make sure we keep healthy snack items in the house. As kids get older, let them make some of the food choices and do more of the food prep.
Bedtime Routine: Establish a bedtime routine that includes brushing teeth, getting into pajamas, and preparing for a good night’s sleep.
Every home will have a different routine. It isn’t important that your routine is the same as your neighbors. But a bedtime routine does teach kids that sleep is important and worth prioritizing.
Laundry Skills: Teach kids how to sort and fold laundry, use a washing machine and dryer (if age-appropriate), and care for their clothes.
Cleaning Up After Themselves: Encourage children to clean up their toys, make their bed, and keep their personal space tidy.
It’s pretty normal for kids to not like cleaning. We have found that cleaning is easier if we use a timer for short periods of time…and if we all do it together. Cleaning is also easier if we have less stuff. Kids can learn about decluttering when they are young by simply giving away old toys and clothes when they get new ones.
Self-Care During Illness: Teach kids how to take care of themselves when they’re feeling unwell, including knowing when to ask for help from an adult.
In our house, the most basic form of self-care here is for them to learn to drink enough water when they don’t feel well…and pay attention to bowl movements (TMI??) It seems silly, but often they don’t feel well if they are dehydrated or constipated…which can be helped with water and fiber.
From there self-care during illness means we want them to ask us for help. Our kids learn from the time they are young about different supplements that we might use to help when they feel poorly.
Emotional Well-being: Help children recognize and express their emotions, practice self-calming techniques, and seek support when needed.
As a young child, I often felt stressed by overstimulation. My whole system felt on edge. I didn’t really tune into my own body until I was older. One of the best things we can do for our kids is help them pay attention to their emotions and figure out what triggered their stress so they can look at the situation more logically…and make choices to help them navigate those stressful situations.
Food Life Skills
Food life skills are a wonderful diverse set of life skills for kids and teens that appeal to a wide variety of interests. Of course we need to eat multiple times a day, so there is the practical side. But often our kids will find some area that they enjoy more than others. Some enjoy cooking and others enjoy baking. Another might enjoy gardening and another raising animals or hunting. There are an endless number of interests that tie directly to food!
Meal Planning: Teach kids and teens how to plan balanced meals by including a variety of food groups and considering nutritional needs.
Grocery Shopping: Involve kids in grocery shopping trips, teaching them how to read food labels, compare prices, and make healthy choices.
Food Preparation: Guide children in basic food preparation tasks such as washing fruits and vegetables, cutting ingredients (with appropriate supervision), and measuring ingredients.
Cooking Skills: Introduce kids to simple cooking techniques like stirring, mixing, sautéing, and baking. Gradually allowing them to take on more complex tasks as they gain confidence.
Safe Food Handling: Include food safety as you teach your kids about cooking. Kids need to learn about proper food safety practices, including handwashing, using separate cutting boards for different foods, and storing food at the correct temperatures.
Kitchen Cleanup: Teach children to clean up after cooking, including washing dishes, wiping countertops, and properly storing leftovers.
Table Manners: Instill good table manners in children, such as using utensils correctly, chewing with their mouth closed, and engaging in polite conversation during mealtime.
Understanding Food Labels: Help kids understand nutritional information on food labels, including portion sizes, ingredients, and identifying healthier options.
Kitchen Safety: Teach children about kitchen safety measures, such as using oven mitts, being cautious around hot surfaces, and avoiding sharp objects.
By developing these food life skills, children can become more self-sufficient in the kitchen and make informed choices about their diet and nutrition.
Financial Life Skills
Financial skills are often easy to start teaching as soon as kids are old enough to want thing. Start by teaching the physical money, then give them a chance to earn and spend it. From there build
Budgeting: Teach children the importance of budgeting by explaining how to allocate money for different purposes, such as saving, spending, and giving.
Saving Money: Encourage kids to save money by setting goals, opening a savings account, and explaining the concept of interest and compound growth.
Earning Money: Prioritize teaching children about the value of work and helping them find age-appropriate ways to earn money, such as doing chores or starting small businesses.
Spending Wisely: Show kids how to make wise spending decisions, differentiating between needs and wants, and comparing prices before making a purchase.
Understanding Financial Institutions: Introduce children to the concept of banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions, explaining how they work and how to manage money within them.
Making and Using a Bank Account: Help kids open their own bank account and teaching them how to make deposits, withdrawals, and keep track of their transactions.
Debt and Credit: Educate teens on the responsible use of credit, explaining the concept of interest rates, and emphasizing the importance of avoiding excessive debt.
Setting Financial Goals: Help kids set short-term and long-term financial goals, such as saving for a specific item or planning for college.
Philanthropy and Giving: Instill the value of giving back by teaching children about charitable organizations, donating a portion of their money, or volunteering their time.
Social Life Skills
Social life skills for kids include:
- Communication: Teach children how to express themselves clearly, listen actively, and engage in effective conversation with peers and adults.
- Empathy: Help kids to understand and share the feelings of others, and to respond with kindness and compassion in social interactions.
- Making Friends: Walk children through the steps of making friends. Help them develop skills to initiate conversations, find common interests, and build meaningful friendships with their peers.
- Respecting Others: Show your kids what it looks like to respect people who are different. Talk about what it looks like to treat people kindly despite cultural, religious, and individual differences.
- Conflict Resolution: Prepare children with the skills to resolve conflicts peacefully, including using compromise, negotiation, and seeking adult help when needed.
- Cooperation and Teamwork: Encourage kids to work collaboratively with others, share responsibilities, and contribute positively to group activities.
- Etiquette and Manners: Teach children about polite behavior in social settings, including greeting others, saying please and thank you, and showing consideration for others.
- Digital Citizenship: Explain responsible behavior online, including understanding the impact of their words and actions on social media and other digital platforms.
- Self-Advocacy: Practice self advocacy by encouraging them express their needs and opinions in social situations and seek help when necessary.
By nurturing these social life skills in children, we can empower them to form healthy relationships, navigate social situations with confidence, and contribute positively to their communities.
Time Management Life Skills
Trying to get “all the things” done is something many of as adults are still trying to figure out!
- Setting Priorities: Teaching children how to identify and prioritize tasks based on importance and urgency.
- Goal Setting: Guiding kids in setting realistic and achievable goals, both short-term and long-term, and creating action plans to work towards those goals.
- Creating Schedules: Helping children create schedules and routines to manage their time effectively, including allocating specific time slots for different activities.
- Organizing Tasks: Teaching kids how to break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps, and organizing them in a logical order.
- Managing Distractions: Assisting children in recognizing and minimizing distractions that can derail their focus and productivity, such as electronic devices or noise.
- Estimating Time: Encouraging kids to develop a sense of how long tasks take to complete, helping them plan and allocate appropriate amounts of time for different activities.
- Punctuality: Emphasizing the importance of being on time for appointments, commitments, and deadlines, and teaching children strategies to manage their time effectively to avoid lateness.
- Self-Reflection: Encouraging kids to reflect on how they use their time, identifying areas for improvement, and making adjustments to optimize their productivity.
- Time Blocking: Introducing children to the concept of time blocking, where they allocate specific blocks of time for different activities or subjects, ensuring a balanced schedule.
By developing these time management skills, children can learn to prioritize tasks, meet deadlines, and make the most efficient use of their time, setting them up for success in academics, extracurricular activities, and personal pursuits.
Communication Life Skills
Communication life skills include:
- Active Listening: Teaching individuals to listen attentively, show understanding, and respond appropriately in conversations.
- Verbal Communication: Helping individuals articulate their thoughts clearly, express ideas effectively, and engage in meaningful conversations.
- Nonverbal Communication: Educating individuals about the importance of body language, facial expressions, and gestures in conveying messages.
- Empathy: Encouraging individuals to understand and share the feelings of others, and communicate with compassion and understanding.
- Assertiveness: Assisting individuals in expressing their thoughts, needs, and boundaries confidently and respectfully.
- Conflict Resolution: Guiding individuals in managing conflicts through open and constructive communication, active listening, and seeking mutually beneficial solutions.
- Public Speaking: Helping individuals develop confidence and effective techniques for delivering presentations or speaking in front of an audience.
- Written Communication: Teaching individuals to convey thoughts clearly and professionally through written correspondence, such as emails and reports.
- Adaptability: Promoting flexibility in communication styles to effectively interact with diverse individuals and in various social and professional settings.
By honing these communication life skills, individuals can build strong relationships, collaborate effectively, and navigate social and professional interactions with confidence and clarity.
Career Life Skills
Career life skills include:
- Goal Setting: Teaching individuals to set goals and create a clear vision for their career path.
- Self-Assessment: Helping individuals identify their strengths, interests, and values to make informed career choices.
- Resume Writing: Guiding individuals in creating a professional resume that highlights their skills, experiences, and qualifications.
- Job Search Strategies: Providing guidance on effective job search techniques, including networking, online job boards, and career fairs.
- Interview Skills: Assisting individuals in developing strong interview skills, including preparing for common interview questions and practicing mock interviews.
- Professional Communication: Teaching effective communication skills, both written and verbal, in a professional setting.
- Time Management: Helping individuals prioritize tasks, set deadlines, and manage their time effectively to meet professional obligations.
- Problem-Solving: Encouraging individuals to develop problem-solving skills and think critically to overcome challenges in the workplace.
- Continuous Learning: Promoting a mindset of continuous learning and professional development to stay relevant in a rapidly changing job market.
By developing these career life skills, individuals can navigate their career paths with confidence, adapt to new challenges, and make informed decisions about their professional growth.
Spiritual Life Skills
Spiritual life skills include:
- Mindfulness: Teaching individuals to cultivate present-moment awareness and focus on the here and now.
- Gratitude: Encouraging individuals to practice gratitude for the blessings and positive aspects of their lives.
- Meditation: Guiding individuals in developing a meditation practice to promote inner peace, self-reflection, and spiritual growth.
- Compassion: Instilling the value of compassion and empathy towards others, leading to acts of kindness and understanding.
- Self-Reflection: Encouraging individuals to engage in introspection, self-examination, and contemplation to understand their inner selves.
- Service and Altruism: Promoting the practice of serving others and contributing to the well-being of the community through selfless actions.
- Mind-Body Connection: Educating individuals about the connection between their physical and spiritual well-being, and how to nurture both aspects.
- Faith and Belief Systems: Supporting individuals in exploring and deepening their understanding of their faith or belief systems.
- Resilience and Hope: Helping individuals develop resilience in the face of adversity and maintain hope during challenging times through spiritual strength.
By nurturing these spiritual life skills, individuals can find inner peace, purpose, and a sense of connection that fosters their overall well-being and resilience.
Sarah McCubbin, founder of Ten Minute Momentum, is dedicated to helping parents confidently parent their kids by teaching life skills, social skills and leadership skills. As a child she was the kid that never quite fit in and is on a mission to help others understand the building blocks we all need to be successful adults. She lives in Ohio with her husband Mike, and 9 kids ranging in age from 5 to 21 where they use homeschool, private school and public schools for their kids education!