Teaching life skills to your children

While I've tackled many kid-centered topics, like how to save on kids' clothes, should you buy your kid a car, or pay for your child's college, you know what is really important to me? Helping them learn to be responsible and self-sufficient, so they don't need me (except for moral support, of course). So while I often hear that I am a mean mom, and no other kids have to do this, and ALL other kids have that (which sounds a lot like me when I was their age), I have an intentional plan to help my kids become independent.

That intentional plan involves teaching them two skills: to learn to problem-solve and how to negotiate.

Problem-Solving

Life is full of problems, right? Figuring out how to solve problems is a valuable skill. But how do you pass that one on to your kids, or improve on your own problem-solving skills?

Back when I was teaching, I found it easy to teach subjects that were black and white. What wasn't so easy was the medical ethics class I taught, because things weren't black and white. Sure, there is often an option that's best. But quite frequently, there is no easy solution, even though there is a right solution. Or there is a range of solutions. Or you have to make a decision that isn't agreeable to anyone. The most difficult thing is that students would experience situations that were beyond the pages of a textbook, and there is no way I could have prepared them for every challenge they would face.

To help them solve ethical dilemmas in the future, I taught them to work through ethical issues using a six-step process.

  • Identify the problem
  • Develop possible solutions
  • Discuss good and bad points of each solution (With ethical scenarios, they needed to consider patient rights, our profession's code of ethics, healthcare law, etc. With financial issues, they need to examine the relevant facts.)
  • Develop an action plan (or how the solution will be implemented)
  • Act on the solution
  • Evaluate the results

Real life is also full of challenging decisions, in which there may be several right solutions but only one or two that would be the right one for right now. Or any solution would be extremely challenging. That's why I believe this process can also be used to teach our children (and ourselves) how to problem-solve financial issues.

Currently, my kids don't really have financial problems since they aren't managing much money yet. However, they do experience problems, so my husband and I are trying to help them learn problem-solving skills. That way, when they do have financial questions, they will have problem-solving skills to apply to their financial issues.

So, if they come to us with a problem or question, we try to lead them through a simplified version of the six-step process. We ask them, “What's wrong?” “What do you think should happen, or should have happened?” “What should you do now?” “What will happen if you do that?”

I frequently get impatient, because my kids have a difficult time coming up with possible solutions. I want that toy, so therefore I should get it. They require a lot of coaching to come up with a workable solution; but practice, while it may not make perfect, will definitely improve their skills. And the thing about developing these problem-solving skills when the stakes are “I-don't-want-to-wear-those-pants-to-school” is better than when we're talking about a few thousand dollars of household budget deficit or something.

So, practice. Don't let your kids fear failure. Instead, talk about the ramifications of their decision, and ask if there is a better solution. Ask open-ended questions, and show that, many times, there is more than one way to do things. Most of all, give your child permission to make choices, even bad ones (as long as they remain safe, of course), and then let them suffer the consequences. And that's so hard.

Another tool that I used frequently with my students (and now with my children) is that I share mistakes that I have made. No one is perfect, but we can learn from our mistakes and others can too. And if my kids know that I have made mistakes and survived, I think they will be less likely to be paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision in the future.

The biggest thing is that problem-solving is not about memorizing scenarios or following a recipe. You have to think logically and creatively.

Learning to Negotiate

At first glance, my kids don't need any help learning how to negotiateBut I don't want to go to bed now. If I sleep in tomorrow, can I stay up later tonight?

But learning how to negotiate is another great skill … one that I'm not so good at, unfortunately. But in much the same way as problem-solving, we're trying to teach our kids by asking them questions, giving them choices, and helping them see that negotiation is, at its core, a way to resolve conflict. And that's definitely a skill to keep through life.

Again, negotiation requires logical and creative thinking. Most of all, it requires a collaborative approach.

Too often, I pull the parent card and say those words I never thought I would say: “Because I said so.” But when my kids feel they have a voice, that their opinion matters, they usually are more willing to listen.

So we've started using the collaborative approach on things that aren't deal-breakers. For example, our ten-year-old was frequently jumping out of bed at 5:15 am and ready to meet the day (and carry on conversations through our closed bedroom door). Since I prefer that no one even talks to me until 6 am, this was tough for me. Instead of, as Erma Bombeck said, getting varicose veins in my neck from yelling at him, I followed this simplified process.

Why do you get up so early? I'm bored and don't want to stay in my room.

How do I feel when you get up so early? Grumpy?

So can you give me some ideas of how to make you happy and me happy? Let me come out of my bedroom at 5:30? That still feels too early to me. Six? That works. What will you do to not be bored? I can make sure I have some books and toys? Good idea. What happens if you come out earlier? I have to do extra chores? Oooh, I like that. How about one extra chore for every ten minutes you come out early? Um, okay.

Even though I feel more like the winner (I didn't really compromise because he needs to be up at six anyway to get ready for the bus. Shhhhh!), he had to come up with options, and he was proud of himself. Obviously, this can be tailored to any age and any issue. Eventually, I hope I don't need to prompt my kids anymore.

When my kids are ready to move on to adult life, I hope they have plenty of practice of failing in a safe environment when the stakes are lower.

Do you make an effort to teach your kids survival skills?

More about...Education, Home & Garden, Psychology

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Elizabeth
Elizabeth
6 years ago

Sounds like a great plan 🙂 I never really thought about it before, but learning to problem solve is such an important part of personal finance. Too many people think that the solution to a problem is to throw money at it, but we can often come up with a workaround or fix things ourselves.

Many people think it’s up to schools to teach this stuff, but I think kids benefit when they learn and use these skills in as many environments as possible.

AMW
AMW
6 years ago

I like this article! I am always excited to see parents who are about doing the hard work. Teaching them those types of skills is the hard work…it is far easier to do it for them. The beauty is, when you start young it gets much easier as they become teenagers. Teenagers want a lot of freedom and there is a lot of negotiation on what they need to do to be able to do the (legal, ethical, moral, safe) things they wan to do! I think these principles would translate into the work place well too!

Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life
6 years ago

My boyfriend learned basic carpentry skills growing up from his stepfather. He wound up skipping out on college and becoming a theatrical carpenter. Now he makes six figures.

I went to an expensive, prestigious university, I’m lucky if I make a third of what he does.

Carla
Carla
6 years ago

Not to sound anti-feminist but there are not too many trades for women. As much as I would have liked to make 6-figures without spending that much in education, I don’t think many people are cut out for a lifetime of manual labor.

Amanda
Amanda
6 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I don’t think it’s anti-feminist, it’s anti-manual labor, there’s a difference. Being female doesn’t prevent one from being a good carpenter, but not liking the work would.

James @ Happy Later
James @ Happy Later
6 years ago

How do you negotiagte with little kids ? How do you rouse their interest when all they are interested in is seeing Cartoons. I find it hard to get my nephews attention as he has the attention span of about 10 seconds. That is a lot of pressure on me to pass on some life skills before he gets bored and passes to the next distraction…

Hoping to Adopt
Hoping to Adopt
6 years ago

It is difficult to teach to a young child if you don’t have significant control over their life (i.e., you are not their parent or care giver). But, an immediate example that comes to my mind is to negotiate the amount of TV they get to watch at your house. Or give them choices between two snacks or two activities, or let them chose which of two activities they would like to do first.

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago

Well, James, what we do is probably not possible for you, but our kids gets essentially NO screen time at home. We will eventually loosen up on this, but we noticed that screen time/electronics really affected their behavior and their attention span. In fact, our son (both kids were adopted last year) had some ADHD characteristics, but we’ve spent the last year doing things to increase his attention span, including having both kids play outside a lot. They still much prefer for things to be easier for them (don’t we all?), but we try to stretch them by slowly adding… Read more »

Brian@ Debt Discipline
[email protected] Debt Discipline
6 years ago

Good stuff Lisa. We are trying to teach our 3 children as much as we can. We have taught them basic things like how to do their own laundry. We have them involved in our budget, and with my 2 oldest looking for their first jobs, we are teaching them about interviews, good communication skills. etc. We are thinking of some new ways to challenge them this summer.

Marie @ My Personal Finance Journey
Marie @ My Personal Finance Journey
6 years ago

I have a seven year old daughter and I’m trying to teach her some simple chores. And I’m proud to say that she’s improving and she really learns quickly.

nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
6 years ago
AMW
AMW
6 years ago

I think that this will be better than you expected! My children always helped with the cooking so they could learn things along the way. Once they were in 8th grade they had to make dinner once a week during their summer vacations. This is a make from scratch and plan it out type deal. I now receive delicious dinners when they want to negotiate on something! Also, when my oldest went to college she was the only one of her friends who could cook!

Brian @ Luke1428
Brian @ Luke1428
6 years ago

I think parents have to teach their children these things. If not, the kids will be relying on the parents for /support/advice/money/housing/etc. well into the kid’s adult life. Our job is to train them so they can be set free, not hang around home into their mid-30s.

Alice
Alice
6 years ago

I taught my children good problem solving skills by allowing them to make their own decisions after we discussed all of the pros and cons of the outcome. Istarted this with each child when they were 5 years old. The problems were not life threatening at that age so they were able to grasp the concept. If they made a mistake, we worked together to bring about a change in their decision making skills. By the time they were teens they were able to make very good decisions for themsleves. They each had a good job and a savings account… Read more »

Eric Gmutza
Eric Gmutza
6 years ago

This is great advice! Have you read much of Jane Nelsen’s work? A lot of the techniques you’ve described here are right in line with her approach to parenting (Positive Discipline).

Lisa Aberle
Lisa Aberle
6 years ago
Reply to  Eric Gmutza

Eric, I haven’t read any of Jane Nelson’s work, but it sounds like I need to check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

Eric Gmutza
Eric Gmutza
6 years ago
Reply to  Lisa Aberle

Yes, definitely check out the book Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen:

http://www.amazon.com/Positive-Discipline-Jane-Nelsen-Ed-D/dp/0345487672

My guess is you’ll find a lot you already agree with along with some new ideas you hadn’t thought of. It definitely changed our approach to parenting even though we were already on the right track. My wife was so inspired by it that she started up a nice side hustle as a Positive Discipline parenting instructor, which complements her full-time hustle as a home daycare provider quite nicely 🙂

Mike
Mike
6 years ago

While I wholeheartedly agree that parents should model the behavior they want their kids to display, I don’t see kids following a 6-step problem solving model. It’s just too tedious. I took a college course on problem solving, and this approach is hard for adults to put into practice in a busy world, much less children.

Money Saving
Money Saving
6 years ago

Someone said it up there earlier, but I think the skill of cooking would be a great one to pass onto your kids.

My dad is a phenomenal cook. Nevermind that I did not like most of what he fixed as a young kid, but I wish he would have passed some of this onto me. The best I can do it spaghetti and omelets 🙂

stellamarina
stellamarina
6 years ago

Sometimes modern parents just spend too much time having a negotiation teaching moment with the kids when the answer should just be “No!” and “Because I said so”

Do not give the kids too much money, teach them to save some, have them get summer jobs when they are teens. They will appreciate money and not go crazy with it.

carolyn
carolyn
6 years ago

To get a kid involved ,start doing something and not involve them! Worked with 5/6 grade girls in after school rogram. Too cool to do arts and crafts-start making a project-one or two will wander in right of way-the others will sit and make comments-continue and make sure to ignore all comments -feed off the positive-pretty soon the whole group is busy creating! the same goes for little kids- shrug your head and say ,not sure you will like doing this (game, taste food , make something) but you can watch if you like, I had more boys voluteer to… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
6 years ago

You know, it is funny you should publish this. I recently got my kids into Scouting because I realized I want them to have more life skills and a lot of the skills I learned came from being in Scouting. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that even things like my career skills had come about from early experience with project management – in the form of pursuing badges. I just wrote an article on scope creep (above), but it occurred to me that the first really large-scale non-academic project I ever… Read more »

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