When we send our children off to school, we hope that they’re learning what people used to call “the 3 R’s” (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic). And we trust that our education system is reasonably well set up for this. But beyond these traditional subjects, our schools rarely provide training in truly essential life skills. We’re talking about those abilities that every one of us needs in life as we take on more and more responsibility for ourselves.
Life skills training needs to begin early, in childhood. If someone you know really struggles coping with life, there’s a good probability that they were never taught these things. It puts them at a significant disadvantage, so the following 8 essential life skills are vitally important.
1. The Importance of Asking the Right Questions
Whenever you’re faced with something that you can’t figure out on your own, you can save yourself a lot of pain by simply asking the right person for advice or assistance.
As a parent it’s highly likely that you either recognize this conversation with your child, or it’s coming up in the near future …
Child struggling with homework: “I just don’t get this at all.”
Parent: “Well, didn’t the teacher go over it in class?”
Child: “Yes. But I didn’t understand.”
Parent: “So, did you ask for help?”
Parent: “Why not?”
Child: “I didn’t want to look stupid.”
This is a really important life skills training moment. The wise parent will use it to …
- Encourage your child that asking questions doesn’t make you look stupid. If they didn’t understand something, then there’s a good chance that they weren’t the only one. They may even be someone’s hero by being the one to ask.
- Practice with them the art of asking the right question. Have your child frame how they might ask the question next time. Let them come up with a few alternatives. It’s amazing how at some point they’ll think to themselves, “Oh, if I asked it THAT way it wouldn’t sound stupid at all.” You are building the life skill with them, and building their confidence along with it.
2. How to Solve Problems
We all know from experience that life is full of challenges that require us to develop problem-solving skills. Whether it’s managing our study time in school, making it on a sports team, landing a new job, running a project at work, budgeting our family finances, caring for aging parents … or any of one of thousands more situations we’ll end up facing in our lifetime. We need to learn to be able to break a problem down into manageable action steps.
Some people do this quite naturally, and they take it all in stride. But other people are struck with a paralyzing fear of doing it wrong. You want your kids to be in the first group – and that means you can’t assume they’ll just “figure it out when the time comes”. You can take a lot of the intimidation out of life by teaching them simple processes for solving problems.
Caution! Avoid the temptation to solve your kid’s challenges FOR them. Guide them along the way, but allow them to figure out solutions on their own as much as possible. What they’re facing now is child’s play (pardon the pun), but it will prepare them for harder things down the road.
3. Discovering Your Passion
It’s amazing to think that most of us never had anyone intentionally teach us to go out and discover the things that really motivate and excite us. In fact, the subtle and very limiting belief that most of us pick up along the way is “Having a job sucks, but it’s just something you have to do to pay the bills.” But it doesn’t have to be that way at all!
Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying, “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” What a liberating idea. Drum it into your kids that everyone should find what they’re passionate about and pursue it.
Now, of course there are times in our lives when we just have to do things we don’t particularly enjoy. That’s another important truth to teach them. But it shouldn’t stop them from pursuing their passions. And while they are still young, with no great commitments, is the best time to experiment with opportunities and “try on” lots of things to see what they love. This can be the first steps in what will be one of their most essential life skills.Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life. (Mark Twain) Click To Tweet
4. Being Confidently Independent
You have to nurture your children to become increasingly independent as they grow.
We were given some great advice when we were young parents that we’ve never forgotten. An older couple whose kids were already grown, and who we really respected, told us to imagine our influence in the life of each child as a 21-inch ruler. Our job was to cut off one inch each year. So, by the time our kids turned 21 all of our control would be relinquished and they would be on their own.
That mental picture kept us on track over the years. It reminded us while the kids were very young that they still needed us to carry most of the load. But each year we gave them more and more responsibility, and their confidence grew with it.
Being confidently independent is an essential life skill and one of the great joys of life. And along with it goes this one …
5. How to Be Content by Yourself
When a child is still in the toddler phase, you accept it as perfectly normal that they seem incapable of going even 15 minutes without attention. But you also know they need to grow out of it.
As they continue to get older, they find contentment in attaching to other things. Silly fads, video gaming, trendy clothing, and more can hold great sway over them as they attempt to avoid being alone.
Unfortunately, some adults are hardly different. Nobody ever gave them this powerful life skill of being content alone. The ability to lead themselves and to amuse themselves. Some might put it like this: to be “comfortable in their own skin”.
Give your kids this ability, and you make their lives a lot easier, with fewer destructive temptations. You also prepare them to be leaders instead of sheep who follow the crowd.
6. Having Compassion
Self-control in volatile situations, and being able to work well with others, are life skills directly connected to our capacity to be compassionate. We feel compassion when we learn to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see from their perspective.
The way to instill this in your children is, first and foremost, by modeling it. Work on being compassionate yourself every day, and let it govern how you speak. The Bible says that “the power of life and death is in the tongue”. Positive words, wholesome words, compassionate words shape ourselves and everyone around us. If your children hear kindness and respect from you when you talk about people, it will form the same capacity in them. One of the most underrated of essential life skills.
7. How to Deal with Change
As an unknown sage said, “There are only 3 constants in life: death, taxes and change.” We all face change continually throughout our lives. People who stay flexible and learn how to deal effectively with it are far more likely to enjoy success.
Children tend to be more adaptable by nature, as they have not yet become set in their ways. So, it’s not so much a matter of teaching our kids to deal with change, but rather to nurture an preserve that ability in them. Teach them to stay malleable, and you’ll be doing them a huge favor.There are only 3 constants in life: death, taxes and change. (Unknown) Click To Tweet
8. How to Handle Money
Finally, we get to this essential life skill that perhaps should have been at the top if the list. Some schools touch on financial training in their curriculum, but it is still far too neglected. It seems that schools assume parents are responsible for this, while parents assume the schools will taking care of it, or that kids will just pick it up along the way.
Considering how important this is, you can’t afford it leave it to chance. We suggest a 3-fold strategy for teaching your kids how to handle money …
- Involve them in your own budgeting process. We’re not suggesting you overburden them with too much concern for the financial commitments you are managing, but you can have a few budget items that you work on together as a family. Saving and planning your vacation, for example. Or a monthly entertainment budget.
- Get some good materials to teach the fundamentals and take them through it. We highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s materials for kids.
- Help them manage small amounts of money of their own from a young age. Don’t just hand them their allowance or monetary gifts; sit down and help them to plan how they are going to save and spend it. As we’ve talked about in other posts, we are raving fans of the FamZoo preloaded debit cards. They are a convenient, fun and secure way to train your kids in handling money well.
So, those are our 8 foundational lessons for training your kids in essential life skills.
Our schools teach many important things, but they don’t everything everything. As far as we’re concerned, the things on this list may ultimately be more important in life than lots of classical education.
How would you rate yourself on these skills? And how much attention are you giving to passing them on to your children?
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