Sharing your knowledge of the world and instructing your child in the life skills he will need as an adult presents a unique opportunity for bonding. Think back on your own childhood and I'll wager some of your fondest memories are the times you learned a new skill under the loving tutelage of your parents or grandparents. Learning to ride a bike with mom and dad cheering you on; standing on a kitchen chair to help stir the cookie dough; receiving driving instruction from your white-knuckled parent looking terrified in the passenger seat...these are shared moments of victory...of the successful transference of knowledge and skill from one generation to the next. These little successes form a foundation of confidence your child can build upon in the years ahead. Like your parents before you, you are your child's first and most effective teacher. Endless opportunities present themselves during the course of everyday life to teach him everything from how to get dressed and do his laundry to selecting and wrapping an appropriate gift for someone else and even saving up the money to buy it. All too often, we miss these little teachable moments as we scurry through the busy-ness of life, so it's worth a little time and effort to lay a plan for capturing and harnessing them as you go.
Where to start
Begin by brainstorming all the skills you use every day. There are the obvious things like cooking, cleaning and laundry, but think a little deeper. Don't overlook the ones you take for granted because they are so second-nature, such as tying a tie, shaving, or pumping gas. Make a list and group them together by topic or download the Life Skills Made Easy (for younger kids) and Life Skills for Teens (for older kids) PDFs for FREE. We've already done the brainstorming for you! Once there's a game plan, it's just a matter of seizing opportunities to implement it as they arise. It's easier to recognize those teachable moments as they come up once you've identified what they are.
Even very young children can start learning life skills. In fact, the younger they are, the more eager they are to learn. What can your child do right now that will help him begin developing a new life skill? A four or five-year-old is obviously too young to handle a sharp chef's knife, but he can learn to safely cut his own sandwich with a plastic table knife. Even younger children might enjoy watching you cook as you explain what you are doing and why. He will learn just through repeated exposure to the activity and will want to emulate your actions as soon as possible. Encourage this!
Remember that "practice makes perfect"
Resist the temptation to just do things yourself because it's quicker and easier. Set aside some time to patiently coach your child in developing and practicing new skills. Praise their efforts even when the results may not be up to your usual standards. Point out what they are doing right. Remember that teaching them how to properly perform the task is more important than completing it quickly or perfectly. Don't be afraid to let them make a mistake (as long as they are not endangering themselves or others). Sometimes errors are the best teachers...they learn what not to do as what to do. (Likewise, you learn to be more specific with your instructions...like the time I instructed my daughter to drain a can of beans in a colander but forgot to suggest she do so over the sink...oops!)
Encourage learning and curiosity
Kids naturally want to be more like you and do the things you do. They view the "grownup things" as fun. (Shhhh...I won't correct them if you don't!) Keep your grumbling over doing your chores to yourself. Let them continue believing you are having a grand ole time for as long as possible! Find fun and creative ways to help them master each new skill. Go on "field trips" or do things differently than you normally would to expose them to new opportunities. Never underestimate the power of novelty to transform a mundane chore into an adventure. For example, take the bus to the post office instead of driving. Turn grocery shopping into a game. Turn on some energetic music and wash and dry the dishes together as a fun family after-dinner activity instead of simply loading the dishwasher as you normally would.
Reward and incentivize practicing
Even once your child has learned a new skill, it's important for them to continue practicing it. Reward their accomplishment with something tangible that will encourage them to keep using and perfecting their newfound skills. For example, a personalized stationery set might motivate them to send thank you notes without arguing and thus continue using the skills they mastered to earn a Letter Writing Badge. The Life Skills Badge Program is designed to reward kids with a physical badge they can display in their rooms upon completion of each module, while the Life Skills for Teens workbook suggests tangible rewards to encourage older kids to continue using their skills.
Become a curator of ideas
While your child's life skills education begins with you, that doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself! Look for fun camps, classes, books, DVDs and apps that can help. Seek and share ideas from friends and family members. Read parenting blogs. Search Pinterest to see how others are training their young ones.
My nephew and his wife recently shared with me their brilliant and creative "restaurant" idea for teaching responsibility, money management and table manners all at once! Their three young children earn "mommy/daddy money" by doing chores around the house throughout the day. Then that evening, they transform their dinner table into a "restaurant", complete with a host/hostess who seats everyone and a waiter/waitress who takes everybody's order from a laminated menu. Each child must make sure they have enough mommy/daddy money to pay for their meal, and impeccable table manners are expected and practiced throughout the meal. I love, love, love this idea!
With a little patience, creativity and thirst for adventure, even raising capable, independent, and confident kids can be easy peasy!