Teaching Older Children Life Skills

As your children grow into adulthood, it is vital that possess key skills and knowledge about various areas of life including money management, self-care, solving problems and making decisions.  The education system teaches them academic and career skills but who is responsible for teaching them life skills?

As a parent, you will be the principle teacher of life skills for your children helping them to grow into independent and confident adults.  Many of the skills that we teach our children are taught in a passive way as part of everyday life and we are not even aware that we are teaching our children.  For example, when you ‘baby talk’ with your infant making sounds back and forth you are teaching your baby the art of conversation and taking turns at speaking and listening.  In the same way, playing ‘turn taking’ games with young children teaches them valuable skills for later interaction with others.  While it is relatively easy to teach life skills when you are aware that you are doing so (for example, teaching your young adult how to use a washing machine) it is very difficult to ensure that we teach good life skills when we are unaware that we are doing so.  The way we live our life and carry out our day to day activities is how we teach our children life skills by example.  Being conscious of your actions and habits as a parent can be difficult but it is important that we look at how we live if we want to pass on good life skills to our children.

Life skills are learnt from us in three ways – what we teach our children intentionally, how we help them to develop skills by practicing these skills with them and how we give example or demonstrate good life skills. Let’s look at some of the categories of life skills that we need to teach our children and young adults.

Dad and son doing dishes

Practical skills – nourishment, hygiene and everyday living

Young adults should be encouraged and taught basic cooking skills.  These skills are learned at home by watching how parents prepare and cook food.  From an early age, we should get our children involved in helping with preparing food and cooking it.  Much of this will be done by example but it is important to also teach your child basic skills such as peeling and washing vegetables, how to cook vegetables, meat and fish, kitchen hygiene and so forth.

What we eat is also very important in terms of teaching by example the life skill of good nutrition and healthy eating.  If we never cook fresh food then our children will not learn how to prepare fresh food but will also miss out on the value of good food for a healthy life.  Similarly, when we ourselves eat a healthy balanced diet, we are giving excellent example to our children to do the same.

In addition to food and nourishment, our children need to learn skills for everyday living and personal hygiene.  For everyday living, our young people need to know how to do simple but vital tasks such as using a washing machine, hanging out a wash and ironing garments.  Get your young adults involved in helping with these household chores so that they learn skills such as these.  In terms of personal hygiene, we need to teach our children to shower regularly, wash their hands when required, brush their teeth and mind their oral hygiene and the importance of changing their clothes and underwear.  An adult who lacks in personal hygiene skills can be bullied or excluded in work or social situations and so it is vital that our young adults understand basic personal hygiene.

Money Management – managing a budget and shopping 

Many of us went into adulthood never making the connection between the food on our plates and how it got there in the first place!  The same can be said for clothes in many peoples cases (particularly the males who’s parents shopped for their clothes), holidays, presents and so on.  Managing money quite often was never part of our responsibility as our parents gave us money for our needs.  Occasionally we may have been warned “it doesn’t grow on trees” but most of the time we would have ignored that as our parents gave us the money anyway!

Cash Machine

Teaching our young adults how to shop is a very basic start.  Before they reached the teens, they have most likely already had plenty of exposure to shopping with you in the supermarket, butchers, vegetable shop and more.  As teenagers, they wouldn’t dream of going to the supermarket with you!  Therefore, it is important that you get your child involved in helping you with the shopping as often as possible.  Helping them to learn how to recognise items, weigh loose produce, place it in the trolley, handle the check out process and so on, is teaching them a basic skill of food shopping.  While it is often so much quicker to leave the children with someone and do the shopping alone, it is important that you let them accompany you as often as possible.

Clothes shopping and shopping for other items is often learnt from parents as a natural result of children accompanying parents on shopping trips.  Again, try to teach your child how to choose sizes, colours, items that match etc., when you take the shopping.

Money management is a complicated and colossal subject in itself.  Our young adults need to learn how to manage their money in terms of budgeting for what they need, saving for larger purchases and resisting buying items that they cannot afford.  Yes, these skills are lacking in many of us – in spite of our ages!

From an early stage, you can help your child to learn how to manage their money by giving a set amount of pocket money each week and helping them to decide and manage how they will spend it.  For a young adult, this amount could be given at a weekend when they have completed their chores for the week.  Having to complete their chores teaches a valuable lesson in itself; that is, you have to work for your money!  When agreeing how much they should get, it is helpful to discuss with them the type of activities and expenses that they have and how they can manage what you give them to enable them to have enough money to manage to do the things that they would like to do.  If you give your teenager certain amount of money per week, they will have to budget how much they can afford to spend on games or DVD rentals, cinema visits, trips to shopping centres, fast food outlets and so forth.  If they run out of money because they have overspent, then try to leave them with the consequences of that (e.g. they don’t have money to rent that X-Box game and have to wait until next week).  You should also encourage them to save a little for bigger items or occasions – perhaps save for an upcoming birthday gift, purchasing something they really want or extra money for family holidays.  These skills of learning not to spend beyond their means and saving for special purchases will be of enormous help to their financial management in adult life.


Problem Solving and Identifying Options

As a parent, it is often easier to make decisions for our children rather than letting them decide for themselves.  It can save time and we also are reassured that it is the right decision because ‘we know best’.  However, if we are to teach the valuable life skill of identifying options and problem solving, we must allow children to make decisions themselves as often as possible on an age appropriate basis.

From an early age, this decision could be as simple as choosing what colour jumper they want to wear or what toy they want to play with.  As they get older, it may be a choice as to whether they will do their homework as soon as they get home from school or after they have had some TV time.  The basic skill of identifying their options (i.e. the toy to play with or the time to do homework) and then making a decision is being learnt and practiced by your child in everyday life if you allow them to be involved in choosing their options as much as you can.

As your child develops into adulthood, the choices that they face are more complex and their decisions carry important consequences in many aspects of life.  For example, the choice of certain subjects at school can influence options for third level courses or career direction.  It is important that we as parents realise that it is not our duty to choose the option for the teenager and impose our decision.  It is on the contrary, our duty to help the teenager to work out what his/her options are, what the impact of the options will be and how to decide on which option to choose.  We should also, where it is possible, help them to recognise how to review their decision and change their mind or choose an alternative option if they want to.   The key to good problem solving with our teenagers is to firstly, set aside time to chat with your teenager on what the problem is.  Then, letting them speak first, list out what the choices are in terms of how to solve the issue.  Again, it is important that you let the teenager go first on listing the options and only add in extra options by suggesting these to the teenager.  The third part of the process is to talk through the options with your teenager and let them identify the impact and outcome of the various options.  When your teenager has had a chance to talk these through with you, let them choose the option that they want to pick.  It is important then that you agree to chat again after a set period (maybe a day, week or a month) to see how the option chosen worked and if you and your teenager are happy with how this is going.

This art of problem solving together not only teaches your teenager how to identify their options and make a choice, but also how to discuss and problem solve with other people.  This skill will be useful to your teenager throughout their adult life in discussing and problem solving in many areas such as work, relationships, parenting and much more.

Self Care & A Healthy Lifestyle 


This is an important skill to teach our teenagers but often one that we neglect in our own lives.  We all know how important it is to have a good work and leisure time balance.  The same applies to regular exercise, sufficient sleep and rest, good nutrition, limited alcohol intake and not smoking.  Unfortunately, we are often guilty of failing on one or all of the above.  Make sure that you demonstrate and lead by example on as many of the items above as possible.  It is healthy for your teenager to see that you have hobbies and interests to encourage them to do the same.  It is vital that you lead by example in terms of minding your health (both mental and physical) by having social outlets, getting regular exercise and eating well.  When you live well and take care of yourself, you are teaching them that it is important that they do the same.  For many of us, we still have not gotten around to teaching ourselves this lesson!

Remember, we should be demonstrating to our teenagers to “do as I do” rather than “do as I say”.