10 Life Skills to Teach Young Kids

Your young child is more capable than you realize. From how to treat a wound to making a simple meal, equip small kids for the great big world with these valuable life lessons.

There's so much for our children to learn in today's high-tech world that it can become easy for them to miss out on practical life skills. In fact, a 2014 study by the security company AVG Technologies found that while 57% of 3- to 5-year-olds can navigate at least one app on a smartphone, only 14% could tie their shoes.

"I see many parents doing everything for their kids instead of letting them fend for themselves," says Tim Elmore, founder of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit in Atlanta that works with schools and civic groups to promote leadership qualities in kids. "We must prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child."

By focusing on life skills early on, you can do just that. Read on for tips on teaching your young kids practical skills.

Father and Child Sitting in Kitchen with Healthy Fruit and Vegetables
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Preparing a Simple Meal

Invite your child to help make meals and stay calm when the flour spills and the eggshells fly. Some ideas to get them started in the kitchen:

  • Practice cutting a banana with a plastic knife.
  • Let preschoolers spoon yogurt into a bowl and add cut prewashed fruit.
  • Show kids 5 and older how to make sandwiches and smoothies.
  • Let those 7 and older try using the toaster oven.

If you gradually add to their developing kitchen skills, your child should be able to use the stovetop with supervision by age 10.

Using the Web Wisely

With kids spending more time on screens than ever before, it's essential to reinforce a few rules to help them safely navigate the digital world, says Joscelyn Ramos Campbell, a mom of four in Clermont, Florida, who blogs at MamiOfMultiples.com. So as soon as your child can use technology unsupervised, go over these best practices:

  • Choose a password that's hard to guess and never share it with anyone except parents.
  • Chat only with people you know in real life, and don't give out personal information such as your birthday, home address, or phone number.
  • Be kind. Remember that anything you send or say virtually is there forever.
  • Get permission or ask for help before downloading something or clicking a pop-up.
  • Most importantly, let your kid know they can come to you with any issue. "This is a conversation you will have again and again as your children get older," says Ramos Campbell.
boy carrying laundry
Priscilla Gragg

Doing the Laundry

Too many teens head to college without knowing how to clean their clothes. Don't let your child become one of them.

You can begin laundry lessons when kids are around 6. If you have a top-loading washer, keep a step stool nearby. Walk them through the process—how to measure and add the detergent, choose the settings, and start the machine—and make it fun. For example, Amy Mascott, who blogs at TeachMama.com, taught her three kids by choosing cute names for each job, like Wash Warrior, Super-Fly Dry Guy, and Put 'Em Away Triple Play.

girl watering a vegetable garden
Christine Schneider/Getty Images

Planting a Seedling

Many preschoolers learn to plant seeds in class but not how to transfer sprouts into a garden. Whitney Cohen, co-author of The Book of Gardening Projects for Kids (Timber Press) and education director at Life Lab, breaks it down:

  1. Prepare a spot to plant a seedling. If possible, add about two inches of organic compost to the top of the soil. Mix it in, break up dirt clods, and water the soil until it's almost as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
  2. Dig a hole. Ask your child to dig a hole slightly larger than the plant's container.
  3. Remove the seedling. By age 6 or 7, kids can remove a seedling on their own. First, have your child split two fingers apart so the plant's stem goes between them. Then turn the potted seedling upside down and squeeze the outside of the container until the plant comes out. If the roots are wound tightly, your kid should loosen them a few at a time before planting.
  4. Plant it! Once you remove the plant from the pot and place it in the hole, have your kid delicately push soil around it and pat it down.
  5. Water. Let your child water it with a gentle stream from a watering can with a perforated nozzle.

Writing a Letter

Letter writing is a lost art, but it doesn't have to be. Toddlers can dictate a note to a family member or a friend (enhanced with drawings, of course), attach the stamp, and drop it into a mailbox. Older children can pen their own letters—and address envelopes. You can even teach them the five parts of a letter: date, greeting, body, closing, and signature.

Helping Someone Who's Choking

According to the American Heart Association, children as young as 9 can learn CPR. Programs such as Heimlich Heroes offer abdominal-thrust training resources for kids in the second grade and up.

Former EMT Andrea Saroza, a mom in Cumming, Georgia, started showing her kids the basics when they were just in preschool. "I had them practice on teddy bears," says Saroza. In 2019, those lessons paid off in a big way when her daughter Kiara Fernandez, now 14, saved her younger sister Jadah, 12, from choking in a restaurant when Saroza wasn't present.

To teach the Heimlich maneuver, Heimlich Heroes has a free, online 15-minute training broken into age-appropriate lessons. The basics, according to Heimlich Heroes, include:

  1. Ask the person if they are choking; if they can not answer, they require immediate help.
  2. Shout for help and tell someone to call 911.
  3. Begin the Heimlich maneuver—stand behind the choking person and wrap your hands around them. Next, make a clenched fist with one hand, and place the thumb side just above their belly button but below their rib cage. Finally, grasp your fist with your other hand and thrust it into their abdomen with quick inward and upward thrusts.
  4. Repeat until the object pops out.
boy in flannel shirt with bandage
Alexandra Grablewski

Treating a Wound

To ensure your child doesn't freak out when they see blood, avoid overreacting yourself. Giving them a game plan will also help distract them from the pain and come in handy when you're not around to kiss their boo-boos.

To treat a minor cut, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends:

  1. Washing your hands with soap and water to avoid contaminating the wound
  2. Washing the cut with soap and lukewarm water to remove dirt and debris
  3. Pressing firmly on the area with a clean cloth until it stops bleeding (usually one or two minutes)
  4. Applying petroleum jelly with a cotton swab to keep the wound moist
  5. Covering with an adhesive bandage or gauze and tape
girl looking at map
Priscilla Gragg

Navigating

If you've ever gotten lost following your GPS's turn-by-turn directions, you know why being able to read a map is essential—even if it's one on your phone. Let your child complete a treasure hunt, take up geocaching, or have them lead the way through the zoo or a museum. These activities will build your child's navigational skills.

Comparison Shopping

Learning to be a smart consumer takes practice. Try this three-step approach:

  1. Explain as you go. Mention prices out loud and talk about choices with your child: "I'm getting gas at the other station because it costs 10 cents less per gallon there." Share with them the things you'd like to have (say, the latest sneakers or tech) but don't buy because they're not in your budget.
  2. Let your child pay sometimes. Give your kid an allowance, and then designate certain items they're responsible for purchasing, such as new toys or video games. That gives your child a chance to manage their own money and experience the satisfaction of saving for something they want and then buying it.
  3. Play the grocery game. When supermarket shopping, in-store or online, challenge your kid to find the least expensive cereal brand.

Wrapping a Gift

Your child already loves giving presents, and wrapping them makes it even more satisfying. Preschoolers can help cut the paper and add tape. Kindergartners and older kids can complete additional steps with your help, like removing the price tag, finding the correct size box, and wrapping paper around the gift to ensure it fits before cutting it.

A version of this story previously appeared in Parents Latina.

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