Three Things You Should Teach Your Kids

Let’s be clear from the start: I am not going to advocate anything “academic” here.  I don’t think you need to make sure your three-year-old is reading or knows the alphabet or that your five-year-old can do addition and subtraction.  Forget it – those are the things that come with time and school.  There are other things though that kids don’t seem to be learning at all and it’s high time us parents took the time to teach our kids some of the life skills they need.

Here are three things to teach your kid and ways to make it an easy and fun process too:

Finding Their Way Around Town.  Sadly most kids couldn’t find their home from two blocks away these days.  Overprotective parents walk their children everywhere and when kids are with their parents, they often aren’t paying the most attention in terms of finding their way around.  Furthermore, without practice, it’s nearly impossible for kids to learn the geography of what they need.  Parents worry about what might happen to a child walking home alone without realizing that if they never walk home alone, they are absolutely at the mercy of strangers when that time does eventually come (and come it will).  Practice and confidence in knowing where you are and how to get around is essential for kids’ development.

How to do it?  One activity that can help children understand their environment in a micro and macro way is to play a “map game”.  Get your child, get a map of the area (you can print up as big or small a map as necessary), blindfold your child, and drive or bus out to somewhere.  Get out and work with your child to find where they are on the map and where their house is.  The adventure is for you guys to find your way home.  If your child is old enough you can bike, but if not, walking is an excellent alternative.  I realize this requires some reading knowledge, so for younger kids, just creating maps of the neighbourhood using pictures and drawings to make maps of the neighbourhood.

Cook.  All children should learn how to cook – it’s an essential life skill that they will need later on yet most kids don’t have it.  Go to a college campus and look at the diet of kids not using the cafeteria and it’s ramen noodles, kraft dinner, and other processed, quick foods with little to no nutritional value.  I’ve never met a parent who didn’t want their kid to eat healthy yet so few give them the opportunities to learn how to do it.  Unfortunately it’s one of the skills that often requires more than just modeling to learn.

How to do it?  As I said above, it’s sadly not one of the skills that you can only model.  No matter the age of your child, start including them in cooking and preparation now.  Depending on how old your child is, the amount of responsibility you give them will vary as will the tasks, but I firmly believe that by age 12 a child should be able to make every meal for him/herself for a day, if necessary.  This doesn’t mean that your child has to make his/her own food, but that being able to do it is a skill that is not only helpful, but necessary down the line.  A bonus is that adding them into the process gives you valuable time to chat and just be with each other – something that can be lost in today’s overscheduled and overworked world.

Understand Money (Balance a Budget).  I remember the days when you had your allowance or money earned from chores or work and you saved up.  You counted what you had, you either kept it at home or in the bank (counting interest) and with that you learned how to save, what things cost, etc.  Understanding money is something that, unfortunately, far too many kids just don’t get.  It’s no surprise either if they live in a world where mom and dad just pay for anything and everything, or they have allowance without earning it, and so on.  I admit I’ve never seen people who were responsible with money fail to instill this understanding in their children; often it’s those of us who struggle with finances ourselves who struggle with how to teach it to our kids.

How to do it?  First things first, outside of necessities, kids should pay for the extras they want.  Yes, they’ll get gifts for birthdays, holidays, or sometimes just because we’re feeling generous, but it doesn’t do a child well to not learn how much things cost, how to save up, and in turn learn the value of what they are receiving.  If you struggle with making them pay for the whole thing, make them pay half, but make them go somewhere, figure out the cost, and then start saving.  Don’t buy it ahead and have them pay it back (unless you’re adding interest like the lines of credit we adults use).  Second, give them ample opportunities to earn money (e.g., taking cans back for the refund, extra chores above and beyond what’s expected in the house) and encourage saving by, for example, putting half away for some time in the far future.  Finally, model the behaviour yourself.  Talk to them about how much you have to spend when you go to the grocery store so they can see how you balance all that’s needed on a set budget.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes for you and the more your child learns how much it takes to actually not go into debt.

By Tracy Cassels

September 22, 2014