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Life Skills for Kids: Tips for Growing Good Adults

learning tools for kids

There are so many life skills to teach kids that it can feel overwhelming.

But what if I told you that you only needed to focus on five main categories or characteristics?

Conscientiousness, self-control, optimism, emotional stability, and grit cover so many life skills for kids. Let’s dive into it.

What Are Life Skills for Kids, and Why Do They Matter?

The WHO defines life skills as “abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.”

Simply put, life skills help you sink or swim when life floods you with ‘stuff.’ You know, the inevitable knocks like financial instability, failed relationships, job loss, and bad patches.

I don’t know about you, but I wish there were life skills my parents had taught me when I was a kid. My financial literacy is abysmal, and although my brain is wonderfully creative, it lacks the practicality that much of adulthood requires, not to mention that I got married and couldn’t fry an egg.

My lack of specific life skills means I’m doing something different with my kids.

But, Why Does It Matter?

My husband and I had our first fight over my lack of culinary skills and complete inability to look at prices while grocery shopping. I don’t want my kids to go through the same embarrassment.

It’s my job as a parent to raise kids who can confidently go out into the world and thrive. Knowing how to cook is just one component of independence that I’m trying to instill in them.

The world is big and can be scary. We are doing our kids a disservice by not encouraging them to develop the physical, cognitive, and emotional skills they need to be competent adults.

Life skills for kids go beyond household chores and pocket money, although these can be good starting points.

Kids must know how to

  • Regulate their emotions
  • Make responsible choices
  • Manage their money
  • Think critically about situations
  • Set goals and work toward achieving them
  • Solve problems
  • Look after their bodies, including cooking nutritious meals
  • Work on their relationships

When you teach your kids life skills, you help them feel empowered and confident as they navigate the ever-changing challenges life throws their way.

5 Life Skills Your Child Needs

A research study of 8119 men and women between the ages of 52 and 90+ suggested that people need five main life skill categories for success.

The study suggested that people who accumulated life skills, including conscientiousness, control, emotional stability, optimism, and persistence, experienced more economic success, social and subjective well-being, and better health.

So, let’s explore what these life skills look like and how you can help foster them in your kids.

#1 Conscientiousness

Being conscientious means being diligent, careful, and responsible.

If your child is conscientious, they will strive to do the right thing and show care to the people around them. Research suggests that conscientiousness may develop early in childhood and that self-regulation helps foster conscientiousness. The same study also indicates that environmental factors are essential for helping kids build conscientiousness.

The fact that outside factors influence conscientiousness is good news because it means YOU have more control than you realize.

“Conscientiousness is the key to a successful life. Conscientious people are always the winners in life.”

Dr. T.P. Chia

Conscientiousness is the secret ‘something’ that makes kids dependable and helps them follow through on their commitments.

Being conscientious also covers two other critical life skills that far too many adults lack: time management and critical thinking.

Time Management
kids need to learn how to manage their time

How many adults do you know who are overwhelmed and exhausted? Time management, or a lack thereof, is a big part of the burnout equation.

But learning to manage your time is a skill kids can cultivate early on.

  • SMART Goals: Help your kids set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. SMART goals are effective for school, sports, and personal goals, helping your kids to develop a growth mindset and grit.
  • To-Do Lists: Encourage your kids to make to-do lists and prioritize tasks based on urgency and importance.
  • Pomodoro Technique: Introduce your kids to the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working for 25 minutes and then taking a 5-minute break.
  • Weekly Reviews: Have regular check-ins to review how well the time management strategies are working. Let your kids know they can change things up when something isn’t working.
Critical Thinking

Thinking critically means not just accepting information at face value but actively engaging with it to understand deeper meanings and implications.

Critical thinking helps kids solve complex problems and think creatively about solutions. Considering how quickly our world is changing, the ability to think outside the box is invaluable.

Kids who can think critically are more likely to take responsibility for their choices and understand the consequences of their actions. Critical thinking helps kids reflect on their thoughts and feelings, which means greater self-awareness and emotional regulation.

  • Ask Open-Ended Questions: Prompt your kids to think deeply by asking questions that require more than yes or no answers. For example, “Why do you think this happened?” or “What would you do differently?”
  • Think Aloud: Model the problem-solving process by thinking aloud, showing how you approach and resolve challenges.
  • Fact vs. Opinion: Help your kids differentiate between factual information and opinions, and discuss the importance of evidence in supporting claims.
  • Journaling: Encourage your kids to keep a journal where they reflect on their experiences, thoughts, and learning.
  • Decision-Making Opportunities: Give your kids opportunities to make decisions and mistakes.

Cultivating Conscientiousness

Create a Structured Routine

Why It Matters: Kids LOVE order and predictability. Routines give them a sense of security and help them understand what you expect.

High expectations = responsible behavior.

How to Do It

  • Set Regular Schedules: Establish consistent times for waking up, meals, homework, chores, and bedtime.
  • Use Visual Aids: Charts or calendars are a great way to help your child visualize their daily and weekly routines.

Pro Tip: Get your kids involved in creating the schedule. This will give them a sense of ownership and help them understand the purpose behind each task.

Model Conscientious Behavior

Why It Matters: Children learn by watching you. A scary thought, I know. But think of this as a way to practice what you preach.

How to Do It

  • Be Reliable: Follow through on your promises and commitments. If you say, you’ll jump on the trampoline with your kids after dinner…do it.
  • Show Organization: Keep your tasks and responsibilities organized and share how you do it with your child. A family calendar can be an easy way for your kids to see how you keep all the moving parts, well, moving.

Pro Tip: Narrate your thought process when organizing or planning. For example, “I’m making a list so I don’t forget anything important.” This helps your child understand the steps involved.

Encourage Self-Monitoring

Why It Matters: Self-monitoring helps your kids develop self-awareness and encourages them to take responsibility for their actions.

How to Do It

  • Checklists: Provide checklists for tasks and responsibilities. These lists can include chores, study sessions, and assignment tracking. My kids have an evening checklist that they use to pack for school and sports the next day.
  • Reflection Time: Make time for reflection, where your kids can appreciate what they achieved in the day and what still needs to be done.

Pro Tip: At the end of the day, have a brief “check-in” session where your child can share what they did well and what they want to improve. This practice reinforces self-awareness and responsibility. They will also love the one-on-one connection time with you.

#2 Control

Self-control and self-discipline are crucial for successful adulthood. Imagine having adult money with very little self-control. Jokes. Adults don’t have money. But you get what I’m saying.

Self-control is the secret to helping your kids resist temptation and short-term rewards and helps them play the long game. Self-control and self-discipline are particularly important for teenagers whose limbic systems are running the show. If they have good discipline systems in place, they might find it easier to reign in their emotions and spontaneous choices.

“By constant self-discipline and self-control you can develop greatness of character.”

Grenville Kleiser

Another two life skills that kids need are financial literacy and technological awareness. Both of these fall under the ‘control’ category.

Financial Literacy
financial literacy is an important life skill for kids

Financial literacy is making informed decisions about earning, saving, spending, and managing money. Kids who learn about money from a young age are more likely to make informed financial decisions as adults.

Financial literacy gives kids the confidence to handle money and teaches them the importance of taking responsibility for their financial decisions.

  • Introduce Money Concepts: Start by teaching your kids about different denominations of money, the concept of earning money, and basic transactions.
  • Savings Accounts: Open a savings account for your child and explain how it works. Show them how their money can grow over time with interest.
  • Allowance: If you give an allowance, use it as a teaching tool. Help your child create a simple budget to manage their allowance, dividing it into categories like saving, spending, and giving.
  • Online Banking: Introduce older children to online banking. Show them how to check balances, transfer money, and understand online security.
  • Credit Basics: Explain what credit is, how it works, and the importance of maintaining good credit. Discuss the consequences of debt and the importance of paying bills on time.
  • Comparison Shopping: Teach your kids to compare prices before making purchases. Discuss the importance of looking for value and quality, not just the lowest price.
  • Needs vs. Wants: Help your children distinguish between needs and wants so they can prioritize their spending.
Technological Awareness

Technology is a hot topic for parents because we only now realize its effects on kids. Whether you are team-tech or not, there is no denying that technology is here to stay, and we need to teach our kids how to handle it.

We need to teach our kids how technology impacts everyday life and give them the skills to establish boundaries.

  • Online Safety Rules: Establish clear rules for online safety, such as not sharing personal information, avoiding suspicious links, and understanding privacy settings.
  • Digital Etiquette: Teach your kids about digital etiquette, including respectful communication and responsible social media use.
  • Evaluate Sources: Your kids must know how to evaluate the reliability and bias of online sources. Chat about the importance of checking multiple sources and recognizing fake news.
  • Digital Footprint: Explain the concept of a digital footprint and the long-term impact of their online activities. Most of us grew up without social media. Our kids have the added challenge of broadcasting their mistakes to the world.
  • Tech-Free Time: Establish tech-free times or zones in your home to promote a healthy balance between screen time and other activities. Your modeling is crucial to helping them learn to balance screen time and life.

Cultivating Control

Set Clear Rules and Consequences

Why It Matters: Rules and routines help kids learn to manage their expectations and what is expected of them. Some kids find self-control and self-discipline really challenging, but rules and routines make it easier for them.

How to Do It

  • Family Mission Statement: Create a family mission statement that clearly outlines the expected behaviors and the consequences for breaking them. Explain the reasons behind the rules and the associated consequences. This helps children see the logic and fairness behind them.
  • Avoid Temptation: Make it easier for your child to practice self-control by getting rid of temptations. For example, put phones into a box during homework time or only keep healthy snacks in the house.

Pro Tip: Acknowledge and praise your child’s efforts to exercise self-control, no matter how small. Positive reinforcement encourages them to keep trying and improves their confidence in managing their emotions.

Encourage Mindfulness

Why It Matters: Mindfulness promotes self-awareness, which kids need for self-control.

How to Do It

  • Mindfulness Activities: Journaling and grounding exercises can help your kids become more self-aware. When they are more aware of their emotions, self-control is easier.
  • Goal Review: Encourage your kids to read through their goals each night. Sometimes, that extra study session is easier when they know why it’s necessary.

Pro Tip: Self-control needs attention, response, and action. When you can see your child struggling, draw attention to their emotions, help them come up with a response (not a reaction), and encourage them to take disciplined action.

Use Rewards and Encouragement

Why It Matters: Rewards and encouragement can be just the positive reinforcement your kids need to keep doing hard things.

How to Do It

  • Points and Rewards: Implement a reward system for demonstrating self-control. Your kids can earn points when they stick to screen-free time or put in the extra study hours, which can be traded for treats or privileges. This reinforces positive behavior and the benefits of self-control.
  • Behavior Charts: Use behavior or goal-tracking charts to track progress and visually represent achievements. Sometimes, your kids just need a visual reminder of why they are being self-disciplined.

Pro Tip: Personalize the encouragement and rewards. What works for one kid might not work for the other. For example, I have one child who loves extra Minecraft time as a reward, while the other wants sweet treats.

#3 Optimism

Optimism is part of raising happy kids

Optimism is about having a positive outlook and expecting good things to happen. It makes kids more resilient and open to new experiences. Children are naturally optimistic, so our job is more about capitalizing on those positive vibes.

Optimistic kids experience less stress and anxiety because they approach difficulties with a constructive attitude. They are also more likely to persevere through setbacks and achieve their goals.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Helen Keller

Optimism also influences creative thinking, which is an important life skill for kids.

Creative Thinking

Creative thinking involves imagination, originality, and inventiveness. It also encourages flexibility, open-mindedness, and a willingness to explore new possibilities.

When kids learn to think creatively, they become more resilient and adaptable, better equipped to handle unexpected challenges and setbacks.

  • Ask Questions: Encourage your kids to ask questions about the world around them. Indulge in their curiosity by exploring topics of interest together and seeking answers. Use prompts like “What if…” or “How might we…” to stimulate thinking.
  • Creative Play: Provide opportunities for imaginative play, such as dress-up, building blocks, or role-playing games.
  • Growth Opportunities: Present challenges as opportunities for growth and learning. Teach your child that trying new things and making mistakes are part of the creative process.

Cultivating Optimism

Positive Reinforcement

    Why It Matters: Positive reinforcement helps your child learn what to do rather than what not to do. It’s a much more positive approach to their behavior and helps them feel good about themselves.

    How to Do It

    • Effort Over Outcome: Praise your child’s efforts and strategies rather than just focusing on their achievements. This fosters a growth mindset, where they believe in their ability to improve through effort and perseverance.
    • Encouragement: Cheer them on during challenges, emphasizing their progress and the lessons learned from their experiences.

    Pro Tip: Reinforce behavior immediately after it’s happened. This helps your child link the feeling of being praised/encouraged with their actions.

    Model Optimism

      Why It Matters: Kids can’t be what they don’t see, so show them what optimism looks like.

      How to Do It

      • Lead by Example: Show a positive attitude in your own life, especially when facing difficulties. Talk openly about challenges and how you approach them with optimism and determination.
      • Problem-Solving: Demonstrate problem-solving skills and resilience in your daily life. Let your child see how you tackle obstacles and find solutions.

      Pro Tip: Be optimistic but realistic. Toxic positivity and pretending everything is fine stops you from validating your emotions, which can be really damaging.

      Encourage Gratitude

        Why It Matters: Feeling gratitude releases serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These are ‘happy’ hormones, and optimism is easier when you feel happy.

        How to Do It

        • Gratitude Journal or Jar: Help your child keep a gratitude journal where they can write down things they are thankful for each day. You can also have a family Gratitude Jar. This practice shifts focus to the positive aspects of their life and fosters an optimistic outlook.
        • Gratitude Rituals: Create rituals, such as sharing what you are grateful for during family meals or bedtime routines. This reinforces the habit of noticing and appreciating the good things in life.

        Pro Tip: Be specific with gratitude. For example, my kids often say, “I’m thankful for my family.” I then encourage them to say precisely what they are grateful for about their family.

        You can find more gratitude activities here.

        #4 Emotional Stability

        Children with emotional stability can handle life’s ups and downs without becoming overwhelmed or reacting impulsively. Emotional regulation not only helps your kids cope with stress but also enables them to develop and maintain healthy relationships.

        “My message for everyone is the same: that if we can learn to identify, express, and harness our feelings, even the most challenging ones, we can use those emotions to help us create positive, satisfying lives.”

        Marc Brackett

        Communication is another invaluable life skill for kids, and it is closely linked to emotional regulation.

        Responsive Communication
        communication is a crucial life skill for kids

        Responsive communication fosters genuine understanding and connection. It involves active listening, reading body cues, and responding respectfully and empathetically. Far too many adults struggle with expressing themselves and communicating clearly, but we can teach our kids this skill.

        • Thoughtful Responses: Show how to respond thoughtfully by taking a moment to consider your child’s words before replying.
        • Tone of Voice: Discuss how tone of voice can change the meaning of words and show different examples of how tone can express various emotions.
        • Perspective-Taking: Encourage your child to consider how others might feel in different situations. Ask questions like, “How do you think your friend felt when that happened?”
        • Regular Conversations: Make time for regular family discussions where everyone can speak and listen. This could be during meals, family meetings, or casual conversations.

        Cultivating Emotional Stability

        Teach Emotional Literacy

          Why It Matters: Kids can’t regulate their emotions if they can’t accurately identify what they’re feeling.

          How to Do It

          • Identify Emotions: Help your child recognize and name their emotions. Use tools like emotion charts or storybooks to discuss different feelings.
          • Expression: Encourage them to express their emotions in appropriate ways. For example, “I feel sad because my friend didn’t play with me today” instead of acting out.

          Pro Tip: Get really good at active listening. You need to understand the emotion behind the behavior, and that means listening with your head and your heart.

          Practice Coping Strategies

            Why It Matters: Learning how to deal with overwhelming emotions is a core adult competency that kids need to learn as early as their brains can manage.

            How to Do It

            • Calm-Down Corner: Create a calm-down corner at home with comforting items like soft toys, books, or coloring materials where your child can go to relax and regain composure.
            • Do a Body Scan: It can be helpful for your child to be grounded in the moment. A body scan can help them be present, calm down, and understand how different emotions feel in their body.

            Pro Tip: You have to shelve your reactions in favor of conscious responses. Your kids need you to be the calm in their storm and help coregulate them.

            Provide a Supportive Environment

              Why It Matters: Your kids need a safe space to explore their emotions without judgment.

              How to Do It

              • Open Communication: Create an environment where your child feels safe to express their feelings without fear of judgment or criticism. Let them know it’s okay to feel all emotions, including anger, sadness, and frustration.
              • Discuss Your Feelings: Share your feelings with your kids and how you cope with them. For example, “I felt frustrated at work today, so I took a walk to clear my mind.”

              Pro Tip: Make one-on-one time with each of your kids every day. We have a five minute connection time before bed where we talk about something good and bad from the day and one hope we have for the next day.

              #5 Grit

              Having grit means working towards your goals despite setbacks and obstacles. Kids with grit understand the value of hard work and know that they can always improve their skills in order to reach their goals.

              “Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day-in, day-out. Not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

              Angela Duckworth

              Grit fosters a strong work ethic. Children learn the value of consistent effort, even when progress seems slow. Gritty children also develop confidence in their abilities and become more self-reliant.

              Cultivating Grit

              Grit helps kids learn new skills
              Encourage Perseverance

                Why It Matters: Your kids need to know that most things in life don’t come easy. They have to learn that failure is part of learning and perseverance is the key to eventually getting it right.

                How to Do It

                • Praise Effort: Focus on praising your child’s effort and persistence rather than just their achievements. Highlight the process they followed and the hard work they put in.
                • Stories of Perseverance: Share stories of famous people who achieved greatness through perseverance. Some examples are Thomas Edison, who failed many times before inventing the light bulb, and J.K. Rowling, who faced numerous rejections before publishing the Harry Potter series.

                Pro Tip: Perseverance is hard, so consider making it easier by incorporating a reward system.

                Promote a Growth Mindset

                  Why It Matters: A growth mindset goes hand in hand with developing grit. Kids with a growth mindset see mistakes as a vehicle for learning and believe that they can always grow and improve their skills.

                  How to Do It

                  • Learn from Failure: Emphasize that failure is a part of the learning process. Discuss what went wrong, what they learned from the experience, and how they can apply this knowledge in the future.
                  • Embrace Challenges: Encourage your kids to see challenges as opportunities for growth and learning rather than threats.

                  Pro Tip: Normalize failure. Every night at dinner, we go around the table, and every person says one way they failed that day. There is no judgment or shame, just curiosity and acceptance.

                  Create a Vision Board

                    Why It Matters: SMART goals are a super effective way to remind your child what they’re working towards.

                    How to Do It

                    • Visual Goals: Help your child create a vision board that represents their long-term goals and dreams. Include pictures, quotes, and milestones that keep them motivated.
                    • Regular Updates: Encourage them to regularly update the vision board with new goals and achievements. They should also include a checklist of milestones they’ve already achieved.

                    Life Skills to Teach Kids

                    When you think about all the life skills your kids need to be successful, it can be overwhelming. But the five categories we’ve looked at cover so many other life skills. Instead of freaking out about whether your teen can cook, focus on developing grit by trying new things.

                    What are life skills you wish your parents had taught you that you want to instill in your kids?

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