When our children are babies, we are so in tune with their milestones. When are they supposed to sit up? When should they walk? After they finish becoming mobile, potty-training and learning to talk, the milestones seem fewer and farther between. Somehow, we lose track of when they should learn independent living skills as they get older. However, to move your child forward toward being a capable adult, the work never ends. Here are some skills that might not get checked at the doctor's office, but are just as important.
Preparing One’s Own Food
Kids love to be in the kitchen, so you will rarely get an argument if you involve them in meal preparation. Not only does this skill teach math, it allows children to gain self esteem by developing independence. When preparing the food, kids learn the hard work that goes into a family meal, which fosters a sense of appreciation. They are also much more likely to try foods that are new or out of their comfort zone if they are the cooks! When they are cooking at home, they’re developing healthy eating habits. So many adults don’t know how to feed themselves healthy food. Teaching children to never be intimidated by the kitchen will bridge over into their adult life.
Parents can look online for kid-friendly recipes. Not all recipes will be suited for children and it’s better to search for particular age groups. Children can get started early with simple tasks, like three-year olds mashing potatoes or washing vegetables. When they are older than five, they can add in some cutting with some careful instruction. After eight years of age you may find them planning family meals and following a recipe. But don’t allow them to go solo--even after age 12, kids still need some supervision to avoid accidents. Teens can surprise you sometimes with their choices!
If your child needs more kitchen time, you could look for an area class specializing in cooking, or tune into a YouTube channel made specifically for child cooks. Try this one: https://www.youtube.com/user/CharlisCraftyKitchen
Getting Dressed Independently
Just the act of putting on clothes - stepping into pants, pulling over shirts and dresses, tying, zipping, buttoning and lacing works on fine motor skills. However, the best way to begin to teach this task is to learn to undress first. While the physical development is very important, feeling in control of the choices involved in dressing allows children that necessary tiny bit of autonomy. Experts suggest putting up with the tutus in winter or the ties and t-shirts. Those needs will eventually phase themselves out, but not before teaching children to be confident in their own choices, one crazy outfit at a time.
Cleaning Up Their Room
True confessions, two of three of my children don’t seem to have mastered this lesson (sorry, Guys). But you can have better success if you let your kids learn to stay neat early. While it might be easier to clean up yourself, don’t give into that temptation. You can find a few strategies to make a tough task easier. Fun, motivating music can make cleaning up the room a dance party. Try racing your child to get everything put up as fast as possible. Above all, as a parent, don’t ask their permission to clean up the room. Avoid saying, “Okay?” After you’ve asked them to participate. Don’t start the process by making it a choice. The bonus to all this parenting work ? When they learn to clean their own room, you don’t have to do it!
Learning to Volunteer
Children are naturally empathetic and love to help others. As a parent, it’s almost never too early to foster this skill. Of course, it’s important to pay attention to age and skill level to pick activities that are right for them. It’s also great to follow their interests to make a volunteer project more compelling for your child. One of the best ways to teach a child that it’s valuable to volunteer is to model that behavior. Making this a family effort shows that you practice what you preach and it will be more likely that your child will take this lesson into adulthood. Another way to teach a child about the gift of giving is to read books that deal with the theme, like the beautiful story of a generous tree, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
Julia Taylor had debt from her master’s degree and vowed that her daughters would learn to live free of borrowed money. She knew she had to make spending realistic for her oldest daughter, “Kate and I had a lot of conversations on how to handle money. I gave her a little notebook to keep track of her allowance. She wrote down what she spent and what she planned to spend it on. I required her to have charitable giving and savings. She still does it at 21 years old. She keeps track of every penny and checks her bank account everyday.”
Julia was so successful in teaching this lesson that Kate managed to budget out scholarship money in a year abroad in China with very little input. She says, “She has a two year plan at all times.”
Professionals like Dave Ramsey agree with Julia starting so early to teach fiscal responsibility. His suggestions usually involve showing rather than telling kids how much things cost. A visual representation can show a child realistically what spending means.
Following Directions to an Address
Kids are usually more competent with their phones than their parents are, but every now and then there is somewhere that might not be on a GPS. Does your child know how to read a map? It seems silly, but map-reading helps children develop spatial reasoning. These skills include shape, size, and trajectory of objects, using information to make a decision and manipulate. Maps are cool, too! They’re chock full of symbols and the possibility of different environments and worlds. Make a treasure hunt with map clues or play with a compass. Your child’s math skills will benefit.
Even though you might have made it through the early milestones of child-rearing, parenting is a never-ending joy. Exploring adult skills make your children happy and independent, leading to well-adjusted adulthood.
Jessica Farthing is a Savannah-based freelance writer and mom of three. She often looks at her children who are almost grown and wonders how it happened so fast!