How to Teach Kids Life Skills to Promote Independence and Confidence
A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Our Children’s Social and Emotional Development Post-Pandemic
By Jenny Woo, Ph.D.
In my roles as an educator, emotional intelligence researcher, former Montessori school director and mom of three, parents often ask me what they can do at home to better support their children’s development. While the most common answer you might hear at a Parent-Teacher Conference or the Pediatrician’s office is to “read to your child,” I believe there is so much more parents can do – all within the reach of everyday activities.
Parents are the first teachers of our children, and home is the first environment where our children play and learn. Yet, we frequently disassociate domestic activities from real learning, and inevitably miss out on the richness of practical and sensorial development that lie within our reach. I remember my over-zealous self as a parent: always in search of a new playground, children’s museum, or learning center – shelling out money for new experiences.
Now as a more seasoned parent and researcher, I’ve come to appreciate the value of practical life skills in not only laying the foundation for our children’s social and emotional growth, but also in ensuring that our teens can live independently and confidently on their own. This is something I’ve been doing with my kids. Below, I share examples of how to help your children develop these essential life skills and simultaneously boost their social and emotional skills.
To help your child get started ASAP, I included simple How-To videos that my children recorded to teach kids on these life skills. You can also subscribe to our Youtube channel. Videos are added almost daily.
How to Build Self-Awareness by Raising Self-Reliant Superstars
Caring for oneself is an essential life skill, and it directly connects to self-awareness. By teaching our children activities like cooking for themselves, cleaning up, and doing chores around the house, we empower them to become aware of their everyday needs and take responsibility for their well-being. For example, here’s a checklist of what your child can do:
Preschooler (Ages 4-5):
- Load the dishwasher (How-To Video)
- Wash dishes (How-To Video)
- Care for houseplants (How-To Video)
Early Elementary (6-8):
- Take out the trash/rubbish (How-To Video)
- Clean countertops (How-To Video)
- Fold/hang laundry (How-To Video)
Elementary and Beyond (9+):
- Make simple meals (How-To Video)
- Do the laundry (How-To Video)
- Clean toilets (How-To Video)
By encouraging independence, we’re helping our kids develop a strong sense of self and their ability to problem-solve in the face of challenges.
How to Build Self-Management by Raising Responsible Decision-Makers
Encourage your child to develop healthy habits like exercising regularly, healthy eating, and prioritizing sleep. These activities not only promote physical health but also teach them the importance of self-discipline and making smart choices. They will inevitably make mistakes (and poor choices) – which are in itself opportunities to practice managing oneself. For example, help your child apply these habits of mind:
- Practice growth mindset (How-To Video)
- Set SMART goals (How-To Video)
- Pack for a trip (How-To Video)
- Exercise (How-To Video)
- Eating healthy (How-To Video)
- Make a budget (How-To Video)
How to Build Social Awareness and Relationship Skills by Raising Compassionate Humans
Instilling compassion in our children is a powerful way to build social awareness and strengthen their ability to connect with others. Teaching them to genuinely care about others and understand different perspectives helps them form meaningful connections with people from all walks of life. Does your child know the difference between sympathy and empathy? Here are concepts and actions your child should know and do:
- Reading social cues (How-To Video)
- Demonstrating empathy (How-To Video)
- Make an apology (How-To Video)
- Make an appointment (How-To Video)
- Expressing gratitude (How-To Video)
I will end this on a practical note for promoting parental sanity. Remember the time when we thought our homes would magically clean themselves? Yeah, me neither. Assigning age-appropriate chores to our children not only teaches them responsibility and social and emotional skills, but it also lightens our load!! It’s a no-brainer: everyone wins! As our children learn to manage their belongings and contribute to the household, they develop a sense of accomplishment, boosting their self-esteem and work ethic.
Is there a life skill you want to teach your child that isn’t in this list? Dr. Woo would love to produce truly useful and relevant videos! So request one by adding a blog comment or you can email her at email@example.com.
Dr. Jenny Woo is a Harvard-trained educator, TEDx speaker, and founder/CEO of Mind Brain Parenting. Jenny is the creator of a series of award-winning emotional intelligence games: 52 Essential Conversations, 52 Essential Relationships, 52 Essential Critical Thinking Skills, and 52 Essential Coping Skills. Her latest deck is on life skills! Her games have won the 2018 Parents’ Choice Awards, 2021 National Parenting Product Awards. Based in Irvine, CA, Jenny is a mother to three elementary-age children.
This is a fantastic article (and a great blog!). There are so many helpful resources here and I am thrilled I found it. As a mother of a teen boy I am trying very hard to be present in his life even though he is very much pushing back and often shutting down. I think I do need to step back from giving advice all the time to making him feel more accepted and know how proud I am of him. This blog actually reminded me of a book I gave to him recently called, “Mentors and Tormentors, on the Journey to Self-Respect” by Tim Jones (consider it an instruction manual for tweens/teens written as an entertaining fiction novel). It encourages teens to take control of their lives and gives some really helpful tips and lessons throughout. The main character, Wendall, encounters 15 characters (both good and bad) that range from a bartender to his sweet next-door neighbor – and everyone in between. I read this book first before giving it to my son and I thought it was funny, clever, relatable and a really smart way to teach teens about depression, bullying, self-respect, etc. Definitely recommend it to parents and I think it’s a very valuable resource (and a good discussion starter too). Here is the website for anyone interested:
Deborah, I am so glad! Yes, holding back advice giving when a child is resistant can really make a difference. Empathetic listening can help them open up to you without fearing you’ll tell them what to do when they just want to feel heard and understood. Great reflections! Thank you for the book recommendation! I will look into it! Sounds great! Another wonderful book that was written to read with your teen is called “Brainstorm; The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain” by Daniel J. Siegel, MD. And of course, my book very much addresses teen development and the push me, pull you aspect of the teen years. You can find it here:https://amzn.to/2Lyksr2 Glad you found us too and hope you’ll subscribe free (on right side of the home page) to get our article, resources and updates! Thanks for writing! Best, Jennifer Miller