As parents, we often do not think about the skills we teach our children. We may want them to know principles and morals – what is right, what is wrong, saying please and thank you – the things most people consider as “skills” that children should learn as they grow up. However, we don’t consider teaching them consciously the important skills, those fundamental abilities, that they will need to succeed in life, particularly when they leave home.
While there are many skills children need to learn, in this article we want to address the emotional and mental skills of kids growing up as they may be the most vital ones they will need as they develop into young adults.
So, what exactly are life skills?
A person will, throughout their lifetime, need to learn a variety of life skills, those that enable one to survive situations, environments, and circumstances life throws at them. This includes you as a parent. The skills that you learned from your parents, siblings, relatives, or friends are what allowed you to be where you are today.
If we take a look at Wikipedia they define life skills as:
Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life. This concept is also termed as psychosocial competency.
So in essence, life skills are a variety of techniques and practices that allow you to understand and comprehend the encounters and troubles of everyday life.
They are the skills you fall back on that assist you in social situations, supporting you in processing your emotions, and enable you to adapt to your environment, ultimately empathizing with others. Also, take into consideration culture. Growing up in one culture, the life skills you learn may not necessarily be equal to that of a different culture – hence in many ways life skills that are taught vary from culture to culture, including family and the overall societal aspects of bringing a child up.
The key as a thing as a parent, however, is not to follow the book of society in regards to your children’s life skills, but to nurture them to become better human beings by teaching the lucrative life skills they will one day need to interact with peers and cultures alike.
How to teach children emotional life skills?
Typically it is our nature to pass on those skills as parents that we learned from ours, including perhaps skills that we procured over our lifetime. It’s natural because those are the ones we know and believe to be right.
The thing about parenting is that we do not deliberately perceive the fact that we are teaching our children life skills every day, however, in essence, all the things we say and do with them is the exact definition of what parenting is – teaching our kids how to survive and flourish in this world.
If you truly think about it, we as adults get caught up in the notion that children are there to fulfill a purpose in our life, no? Why else do you have kids? Ask yourself that question. Nonetheless, the reality is actually that we as parents need to support our kids to help them understand the world around them in a tangible, meaningful way. Showing them what it means to be better people, ones that contribute to the success of not only themselves, but to society as a whole – all through love.
Children are so very fragile, vulnerable, and easily moldable and it is our duty as parents to shape them into stable emotional people that thrive in our ever-changing world. And part of that is for us as parents to understand that just the way children watch us, open and curious, soaking in what they comprehend of our behavior, they too teach us as adults our skills, testing them along the way. That is the beauty of true parenting if you allow it to be.
We believe the following skills are ones that we as parents should teach our children for them to succeed and thrive emotionally and mentally in a complicated and confusing world.
The life skills every child needs
1. How to communicate their feelings
Communication is one of the most vital skills a child can learn. We as parents believe that teaching a child how to speak is the essence of communication, however, in reality, communication is about children learning how to convey their feelings, especially how to communicate negative feelings.
Children who are not taught how to convey their feelings, especially negative ones, tend to deal harshly with themselves emotionally – ultimately leading to anxiety and depression along with other issues during adolescence and adulthood.
One method to help your younger child express feelings is to ask open-ended questions regarding their emotions by creating a safe environment. We as adults believe that we should express some emotions and suppress others, however, by creating a nonjudgmental environment by encouraging a child to express themselves – sadness, anger, happiness, and discussing those emotions with them will allow them to better communicate throughout stages in their life. Older kids can be encouraged to journal and express themselves through coloring, writing their feelings, and sharing them openly knowing they will not be put down or judged through the eyes of their parents.
2. How to deal with failure/rejection
This is another life skill children need to learn. Failure/rejection are often events that we experience consistently throughout life – whether it’s not being included with others during playtime, being bad at sports, not getting an amazing grade in something we believe we were good at, rejected for a college we may have applied too or a potential career move. This is something that guides us throughout life and helping your child understand how to deal with this situation is key to enable them to overcome such situations.
How? Model it!
Let them see you fail, however, also let them see how you deal with that failure. Kids interpret much more than we think they do, regardless of age, hence when you do something wrong to them, take the moment, get on eye level, and apologize to them. Show them that albeit being an adult, you too are human and imperfect. And that is okay.
Let them be part of your day. Share your experiences of rejection and failure and how you dealt with it. Tell them the ins and outs and how that makes you feel, and what you learn from it. Children will pick this up fast. They will learn that it is OK to fail.
Our society molds us into believing that failing is bad. That is just not true. We need to shift our mindset and the way we teach our children into allowing them to fail, and then more importantly learning from those failures.
Therefore if they come home sad from school because they got rejected by some of their peers, talk to them, discuss it, show them that everyone is vulnerable and how to deal with these experiences in life. Show them empathy – children need to learn from a young age that rejection and failure do not define who they are (which is what society does today), yet rather how they deal with those situations.
3. How to show respect to everyone
This skill is taught primarily through example. The problem with it is that we as adults are programmed to be judgemental because that is the way we grow up. People who are not like us – perhaps not successful, or they choose a career path we do not agree with, or are of a different culture or belief, whatever it may be, then naturally as an adult you will go about dealing with people in different manners. However, we too as adults need to learn to deal with others in a respectful manner.
Respect is something kids pick up by watching their parents and how we actually DO deal with those around us and how we deal with kids. As adults, we believe we are on top of the food chain in the family and that kids need to listen, do, and say as they are told. That is behavior they will pick up, but if you deal with your children respectfully, they too will reflect that in the way they deal with you, especially in various phases of their life growing up.
So be respectful and give a second thought to how you deal with others and your children, knowing that you want to be treated the same way.
4. How to be generous and share
Teaching your kids to share and be generous is a life skill that starts as a toddler. Teaching kids that they can share their toys – in the right manner – will go a long way when they get older.
One of the big problems we see in today’s world is we are in an “I” society – rather than wishing well for our neighbor, it’s all about how we as adults earn more, have more – bigger titles and houses, etc. We are not talking about communism and everyone having the same – it simply boils down to being generous and sharing.
If at a young age we are taught to give – share our toys or give them to the less fortunate then we learn to experience joy. This is a skill that allows children to learn compassion in its sincerest form.
Having them understand and see you, as an adult, and comprehend why giving to the needy can be a good thing, whether you offer up your time or services, by helping in a soup kitchen or by giving money to a cause that benefits society will allow your kids to grow up and enable them to be compassionate as adults.
We need to move away, as a society in teaching our kids that only easy, fast, convenient, cheap are the way to go because that portrays things that are not worth our time or money, including other people.
Make things meaningful – kids notice regardless of age. As mentioned our culture has replaced generosity with convenience, however teaching your child to share and to give will go a long way into making the world a better place – while still attaining personal success.
5. How to apologize
You know this, despite being so simple, is probably one of the toughest things we as adults can teach our kids. Apologizing (authentically) to someone for having done something wrong is a humbling and challenging skill to learn. It is in our nature to be selfish and society brings that trait out in us even more, because we are needy and that need moves our thinking into forgetting others.
We forget that our actions and words can cause pain – but that is where we as adults need to be careful with how we teach our children. Having them understand it is okay to make mistakes and fail is key, but owning up to it is what will make them a better person.
This is also true towards them – regardless of age. If you as an adult cannot right a wrong to a child and sincerely apologize and tell them you made a mistake – perhaps yelling when it wasn’t necessary, then they too will pick up that “hey it’s okay to be imperfect, but that there is a way to make it right again” – will enable them to, in the long run, have healthy friendships or a happy healthy marriage.
Otherwise, not learning this skill will make them little assholes, feeling entitled that their world view is always the right one. Everyone else is wrong and they are the victim of everything.
So own your mistakes, apologize and show them.
6. How to know limits and boundaries
When your child has a bad attitude, there often is a reason for it. They may be tired, perhaps overwhelmed or for older kids, something may have happened in school. That is why it is important to teach them to understand their own limits – in other words when they need to complement a specific action like resting or doing something for themselves.
Teaching them self-care (not selfishness) is all about having them understand their own limits. Don’t get us wrong here, it is not about settings limits in their abilities – they should reach for the stars, it is more about having them learn their maximum capacity at something and how to deal with it.
If your child is tired they need to understand that they may need to rest. If your kid is not good at math, they need to understand how to work around that and problem-solve differently.
Teaching kids from an early age to self-care – how to say no, how to have boundaries (e.g.: like how much TV to watch) and at the same time not being selfish is a skill that we as adults do not even do good, so taking the time and teaching this skill to a young child will also teach you.
Therefore note that teaching this skill to a child will have them become emotionally and mentally healthier than someone who is raised anxious and overwhelmed. And ultimately do it with love. Forcing a tired child to sleep may seem the logical response as an adult – I am tired therefore I sleep, however, the cognitive abilities of a child work differently, therefore teach it differently – with love.
7. How to experience culture, races, and social status
Exposing your child to different cultures will teach them skills in how to deal with others, because other cultures have other ways of doing, saying or being. Therefore when children are exposed to other cultures, races, or social statutes they learn to deal with others in a more open, compassionate way.
If you do not have the community and other parents willing to interact, show them through books, simple conversations, foods, educational videos, etc.
Talking to children about diversity from a young age and teaching them that we are all the same but in different ways will enable strong skill sets that will help de-stigmatize differences they will experience through dealing with others.
Therefore it is your responsibility to expose cultural differences and impose the importance of equality within it.
Don’t just be the adult in your child’s life. Walk with them, guide them. Enable them. Show them you are imperfect, but that it is okay. Have them understand that even though you want them to be successful in life, there are skills that will enable them to be a better person and help them thrive as adults. Help them be better than you are and what you may perceive of the world. Learn from them while you teach them.
Take the time as a parent and think of your actions, your words, and what you want your child to take along the journey of life. It’s more than just being good at something or being the best, or being on top of their class, or an MVP in the NBA. It’s about respect, generosity, feelings, and communication. Give them the skills to succeed.