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Top 10 Life Skills to Teach Your Kids Before They Turn 18

When I was a kid, I never once said, “I want to be a digital entrepreneur when I grow up.” 

I never had “be a TEDx speaker” on my bucket list (did bucket lists exist in the 80s??). 

I always and only wanted to be a teacher

Luckily, my parents passed on skills like a love of learning to me, and somewhere along the way, I picked up the ability to be flexible and pivot

I wasn’t taught how to work online, manage my own time, or run a business when I was a kid. I didn’t learn any of that in college either! 

And what of our kids? What jobs or careers might they have? 

We can barely begin to guess. 

When it comes to asking what skills our kids will need when they grow up, we need to prepare them for WHATEVER the world brings

I used my own toolbox of life skills like asking questions, thinking outside the box, and being persistent, to pull together 70 experts to teach 100 life skills to kids and teens in this year’s #LifeSkillsNow summer camp, season 3. Register NOW for free

#LifeSkillsNow season 3

A handful of those experts chatted with me about life skills to teach your kids, most of whom ALSO are not living out their childhood dreams — but only because they didn’t know to dream about what they do now, because it didn’t exist (or wasn’t within their worldview). 

As parents, we want to give our own kids as many experiences as possible, to open their eyes to more of what the world has to give than our own experience, and most importantly, to teach them how to learn. 

Here are the #LifeSkillsNow experts’ top 10 skills to teach your kids before they turn 18!

1. Teach Kids and Teens How to Cook

We can’t guess what our kids will do for a career, but we can predict with certainty that they will need to eat to nourish themselves several times a day. 

Knowing how to cook builds confidence for kids and prepares them for adulthood in so many ways. 

Not only does it bring peace of mind when a young adult knows how to feed themselves, but it frees up time to pursue other objectives, like a career, marriage, or service work

girl cooking with mom

Parents can start as early as age two teaching little ones simple tasks like washing lettuce, measuring a teaspoon of salt, and loading the dishwasher. Here at Kids Cook Real Food, many of our students as young as 4 or 5 enjoy cutting food with a dull knife, cracking eggs, and pouring their own milk on cereal

Once kids know how to read, they can move on to working at the stove, sharp knife skills, and reading and following recipes by themselves. 

Learning to cook isn’t about particular foods or recipes, but rather it’s all about the skills. Teach kids basic building blocks AND the confidence that they can learn more on their own, and there’s nothing they won’t be able to prepare. 

Use the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse if you’re not sure where to start!

2. Kids Need to Know How to Take Initiative

Lisa Yvonne

We could bicker all day about whether knowing how to dust or clean a bathroom or sweep or do dishes or laundry is the most important home management “chore” skill that kids and teens need to know. 

In reality, it doesn’t matter. They need to figure ALL of that out, so just get started

I love what Lisa Yvonne, homeschooling mom of 8 & creator of homeschool curriculum and family resources at The Moments At Home®, says: 

“One of the most important, if not THE most important, life skill I’m teaching my kids is to see what needs to be done and to do it.

This is even more important in many ways than knowing how to do a certain chore; it’s teaching them ownership, and personal responsibility, and preparing them to be excellent partners in life and business. We start when they are young and go from there – teaching them from the earliest stages how to do what they can to be a valuable part of our team!”

Lisa and her kids teach how to sweep in the #LifeSkillsNow summer camp, where we also happen to feature laundry, dishes, dusting this year, and cleaning a bathroom last year

3. Can Organizing be Taught?

Jessica Litman

Jessica Litman of The Organized Mama believes that the idea of “being an organized person” isn’t nearly as orderly as one might think

“Organizing is a life skill but we are rarely taught how to do it. It’s assumed you are either good or bad at organizing when really you may just need to be taught how to organize.” 

When a child is ready to learn, anything can be taught! 

Jessica also believes that organizing can be flexible: “Organizing isn’t one right way which is another assumption people make. There are many strategies for organizing. So it’s important to know how you think about organizing first. Then finding a method to keep things in place is the best way to stay organized!”

We host an entire organizing track at #LifeSkillsNow summer camp, and Jessica speaks to neurodivergent kids and families about organizing their schedules in her “Plan, Do, Review” workshop.

4. Calendar Skills are a Thing

Another life skill that feels like it might be intuitive but often needs to be taught is how to use a calendar. 

Parents can teach teens the simple habit of both inputting tasks and events into a calendar, whether that’s paper or digital, and then the even more important habit of actually looking at the calendar to see what you need to do!

This idea can be seeded when kids are still in elementary school simply by narrating the voice in your own head:

“What do I need to do today? It’s Thursday, so that means laundry day and garbage day…”

“I see we have dentist appointments next week. I’ll email the teachers right now to let them know we’ll be gone, and I’ll put a note in the calendar for the night before so that we remember to bring the retainers to get cleaned.” 

Help young children get the feel for a schedule and what a calendar can do, and later, help teens figure out the best calendar system for their personality

5. Kids Need to Understand the Value of Self Advocacy

I call this the great skill of asking questions

I’ve seen kids flounder and be miserable simply because they’re unwilling to advocate for themselves, and I’ve experienced the opposite as well, the joy of a young person who asked the right questions and respectfully got something they desired

Special Education Advocate Lisa Lightner sees a problem in our society in this area: 

“So many parents step in and handle things for their kids and don’t give them the opportunity to self-advocate. This means being able to ask for help, set and enforce personal boundaries, and much more. If you cannot advocate for yourself, you really can’t do anything else as an adult.”

Well said! Parents must model but also give their children a chance to practice. Practice makes progress! 

Lisa’s advice isn’t limited to life skills. In addition to offering great IEP advice, she teaches people how to become special education advocates.

6. Life Will be Hard – How do we Teach Kids to Allow Hurt Feelings in a Healthy Way?

Wendy Snyder

Wendy Snyder, Positive Parenting Educator and Family Life Coach at Fresh Start Family has worked with hundreds of families and seen the impact of a lot of painful moments. 

She suggests that parents model yet another “soft” life skill: How to feel the emotion of hurt in a way that respects yourself and others.

“When kids are mentored on HOW to feel hurt without hurting back, conflicts get resolved much easier and so much suffering is avoided in our families and the world. Since most kids don’t learn this life skill young, they end up with a limiting belief: “In order to feel better when I feel hurt, I must first hurt back — often because that’s what’s been modeled to me.”

In actuality, “hurting back” doesn’t do anything to truly help us feel better when we’ve been hurt.

“Spending time in nature, being with people we feel safe and loved by, asking for hugs, praying, sleeping, talking to ourselves in a way that nurtures our own hearts, etc. is what actually helps us to process the emotion of hurt, allowing it to move along instead of becoming stuck by being suppressed, hidden, or ignored.

Teach young kids this life skill, and you’ll be helping to prevent wars, divorces, and mass tragedies,” Wendy says.

We model first, and we allow kids to practice. 

#LifeSkillsNow Summer Camp is Back for Season Three!

Get a free family pass to the #LifeSkillsNow Season Three virtual summer camp!

LSN register now

Get 13 skills workshops right away when you register!

Prepare your kids for life with solid skills for living that aren’t taught in school!

LEARN MORE

7. What’s in Your Head? Mindset Matters

Speaking of limiting beliefs, Joey Mascio, Creator of Sidekick to Hero, describes how limiting beliefs come to be:

“The most important skill for teens to learn is the ability to recognize if a sentence in their head is a fact or story. Far too many teens (and adults) walk around believing that their “story” or mindset about things is a fact, even if their story is limiting (eg. “I can’t do it” “Mom doesn’t get me,” etc.).

Once you can recognize that an unhelpful sentence in your head is not a fact, you can rewrite (reframe) it to a story that can help you reach your goals.”

Self-talk molds our kids into the adults they will become. Our voices will be in their heads right along with their own

Let’s make sure, parents, that we use positive, growth mindset words to help our kids write their best stories

8. Be Healthy Through Education

Dr. Robin Dickinson

A healthy mindset is one step on the way to physical health as well, but if our kids and teens don’t care about their own health, they won’t do a thing about it

I believe passing on ownership of one’s own health is one of the most important and challenging jobs parents have. Family physician Dr. Robin Dickinson, MD has the key to kids and teens caring about their health – knowledge:

“We all know what we “should” do…but “shoulds” don’t motivate long-term change.

As a family physician, I know that nothing motivates good self-care better than understanding why our body needs what it does in order for us to feel good and have the best quality of life.

As we prepare our kids for an ever-changing world, one constant we can count on is that they’ll need to take care of their bodies. So helping our kids discover their own intrinsic motivation to care for themselves is one of the few life skills that literally everyone needs!”

Doc Robin teaches two #LifeSkillsNow workshops on the importance of sleep and how blood sugar works

9. Be Healthy Through Movement

Speaking of health, good habits from childhood will serve our kids so much more than if they have to reverse bad habits.

Whether that’s serving a vegetable or salad with every meal, eating enough protein in the morning, or drinking enough to stay hydrated, there are countless ways in which we can set our kids up for success in the kitchen – and everywhere else! 

In our family, we never use an elevator in a hotel and prioritize getting outside whenever possible. 

Shelby of Fit as a Mama Bear agrees that physical activity needs to get a new reputation: 

“I think it’s important for kids to learn that physical activity can be FUN and how to work it into their lives.

We’re in an era where most of the things we do are sedentary and many adults look at physical activity as a chore.

Reversing that mindset and finding a way to move your body that you enjoy not only sets you up better in your overall health but also helps give kids/teens a mental outlet for big emotions, struggles, and challenges they face. Movement is medicine and helps to ease stress. Finding a way to move your body consistently is one key to helping kids navigate stress and anxiety.”

Mental health and physical health are not two separate entities

10. Allow Kids to Experience Failure

If I could tell parents one thing, it’s to rejoice in failures

The recipe to allow kids to fail is this:

  1. Provide opportunities to allow them to learn tasks that have a level of difficulty and challenge. We don’t fail when everything is easy! 
  2. Don’t do things for them. Do. Not. Do. It. Yourself. 
  3. Do not step in to help when it gets hard. Support your child, acknowledge their emotions or frustration, and love them through it, but DON’T jump in to save them. 
  4. Build a family culture where failure is seen as a learning effort, not the end of a task. 

This is not a one-time teaching opportunity, but something parents must model and re-teach over and over again. Many of us stink at making mistakes well, so we often have a lot of personal work to do to get this part of parenting right. 

Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, says we’re failing our kids if we don’t let them fail. It’s the only way they’ll ever build agency and confidence! Listen to my podcast interview with Jessica about how much failing helps kids HERE

Life Skills Make Kids More Successful!

Elizabeth Manly

Who are we kidding? 

How can one possibly choose only ten life skills to teach your kids and teens? 

This list is a great start, but if we limit ourselves to ten, we fall short of great parenting

I’m sure there are countless skills our kids will need to know as adults, but it’s the “soft skills” that are difficult to quantify that will make the most impact. 

Early childhood educator Elizabeth Manly of Discovery Play with Littles discusses the life skill of perseverance: “It not only contributes to success but is the biggest predictor of success. Most parents don’t think about specifically teaching perseverance, but when you intentionally take the time to teach what perseverance is and how to use it, your kiddo can control the thoughts and attitudes they have when they come against something difficult.

Whether it’s learning to put on their shoes when they’re 3, riding a 2-wheeler when they’re 5, making the team in high school, or even landing their dream job as an adult, having strong perseverance skills is what will ultimately lead them to success.” 

And it’s true! Success is shaped not just by what a person knows, but by what a person can do with what they know. The list is long!

Registered Dietician Argavan Nilforoush, Founder of Baby Steps Nutrition, says, “Life skills are essential in shaping a child’s success, encompassing problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, time management, self-discipline, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. By cultivating these skills, children grow into confident, resilient individuals capable of navigating life’s challenges and thriving as adults.”

How do Life Skills Improve Executive Functioning Skills?

We know that the human brain doesn’t fully develop until age 25, so as children grow into teenagers, they don’t have access to their full executive functioning skillset

But it can be taught, through soft skills, and even more so through practical skills – it hardly matters what they are, as long as the child gains an arena for problem-solving, goal setting, focus, confidence, and more.

Getting practice with those executive functioning skills will strengthen the brain like a muscle and help our teens access their logical brains more adeptly

Cassidy Tuttle

Professional photographer Cassidy Tuttle, Founder of Succulents and Sunshine, describes how something as simple as “learning how to care for succulents is a great life skill for teens to develop. It helps them learn responsibility for something outside of themselves in a low-risk way, helps them appreciate nature more, and can improve their mental health. Many studies show that having plants in your home helps boost your mood and productivity.”

Simple, yet powerful.

Anika Gandhi, Woodworker and DIY educator who specializes in beginner woodworking projects echoes Tuttle’s viewpoint from the woodshop.

“I believe an important skill for kids and teens to learn is the safe and proper use of power tools. This foundational skill not only ensures their safety but also builds confidence and precision, empowering them to tackle a variety of projects throughout their lives. It also helps them appreciate craftsmanship.”

Like cooking, woodworking provides ample opportunity for failure, perseverance, and creativity, all while building the executive functioning portion of the brain.

Parents, let’s make sure we’re training our kids with skills and habits that will truly last a lifetime. 

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

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