What are your mornings like before school? Are they high or low stress? Do you find yourself doing a lot or little for your kids? When my kids first started school, I did everything for my precious littles, thinking I was helping. It turns out I was cultivating a lot of dependence that ended with a very stressed-out mama.
Yep, there it is. I had good intentions, but I wasn’t guiding or teaching my children anything. I would wake them up (over and over again until they finally emerged from their beds), put their clothes on, make them breakfast, make sure they had what they needed for school, and I'm almost embarrassed to say we even PUT THEIR SHOES ON while they did nothing. We weren't allowing our children to have any autonomy whatsoever. The result was unwanted behaviors.
Our boys displayed their capabilities from a very young age, so that’s not why I was their assistant. Instead, I did it because it was:
I don’t know about you, but I don’t see how putting on shoes or eating cereal can take so long! Thankfully, with the implementation of routines, all three of my boy's ages 12, 10, and 5, independently wake and get into the car without my help. When I tell people my oldest sons have been making their hot breakfasts, including eggs, French toast, AND pancakes, since they were in second grade, I get a lot of surprised looks. I followed up with a lot of questioning.
I’ve heard it all. Often, it boils down to fear or trust. I had one friend who was terrified to let her son cook on the stove because of his impulsivity. I get it, I have a son with ADHD, and he’s the same way. However, with this straightforward four-step process, I no longer had to live in fear that our house would burn down from cooking eggs and bacon. The steps come from Julie Lythcott-Haims. Author of "How To Raise An Adult."
Learning new life skills can be exciting and rewarding for a child. It leads to autonomy which creates competence and self-confidence, which can seep into every ounce of a child’s life. AVG found that 47% of small children could navigate a smartphone but couldn't do basic life skills like tying shoes. They also referenced learning to ride a bike or swim unaided. This hit me hard because it took us forever to teach our middle child how to tie his shoes since he hasn't needed that skill. I realized that even if he has velcro shoes for the rest of his life, learning something as simple as tying them can help him become more confident in knowing that he can do it all by himself.
Thinking back to my early childhood, I can vividly remember sitting in my mom’s car in our driveway, determined to tie my shoes. Try after try, those loops finally came and stayed together, filling me with the best feeling of joy and happiness, which I now know stemmed from feeling competent. We were robbing our son of that experience. When we finally did teach him, we used this video from Understood.org. I highly recommend this method!
Remember your child's personality, age, coordination, and physical ability. Are they neurodivergent and have different developmental skills than other children their age?
Try to avoid times when your child is not ready to learn, such as when they are hungry or tired. You may also want to eliminate any distractions.
Consider how difficult or easy the skill is and ensure it's developmentally appropriate. Teaching a five-year-old how to change a tire may result in frustration because they probably don't have the motor or many other skills to do that task yet.
Don’t rush through the steps. Remember that one child may stay on step one for months while another tackles it in five minutes and is ready to move on. Teaching a life skill may not be instantaneous, and that’s okay. I have been on step three with one of my boys, teaching him how to pack for camping for about two years. One day, he'll fully pack on his own! Now, if it's something like folding clothes, that's a zip-through-the-process task for most kids five and older. Allow your kid to feel confident enough to complete the task before you remove yourself from the process.
Focus on praising life skills or pointing out what they are learning. Try to avoid "personality praise," which is using labels like "good kid" or "rock star." Instead, praise the skill they learned and the effort it took to complete it.
>> Read Next: How to Motivate Kids Without Praise or Rewards
Focus on what your child is doing right, not what they are doing wrong. The skill will improve with time and much faster if you build your child up instead of (often unintentionally) tearing your child down.
Adapt the tools to complete the skill. For example, my sister-in-law taught her daughter how to make pancakes at the very young age of FIVE! She filled up an empty ketchup bottle with pancake batter, sprayed the pan, and handed the bottle to her daughter. Then they flipped the pancake together again to ensure safety from the hot pan. With this simple tool, Sadie could squeeze the batter onto the hot pan while staying safe. It also allowed her to get creative and make a mickey mouse head! GENIUS!
Like with anything, practice makes perfect, right? Perfection isn't the result we're looking for, but it sure makes tasks easier the more you practice. We did steps one through three for the cooking skill in one day. It only took a day or so before my son was completely scrambling those eggs on his own. We still supervise or are in the room to ensure the stove gets turned off.
You can take two different approaches for this step: Take whichever task or skill you want your child to do, such as fold laundry, get dressed, or make hot breakfast and show him how to do it.
Now that your child knows what and how to complete the skill, it's time to work on it together. Go at the pace your child needs. While I was teaching my son how to make eggs, we each did a different part of the task as he continuously watched what he didn't know how to do yet.
This one is easy to skip, but you mustn't do it. Our kids need reassurance that we are cheering them on and have their back if they fail or succeed. This is a great way to build that self-confidence so your child is affirmed in knowing he can accomplish (big or small) things without you. My son was so proud when he cracked that egg and no shell pieces were floating in the bowl. He kept looking at me as he turned on the stove to ensure he was doing it correctly. I was there to be his cheerleader and to keep him safe.
The final step is getting your kids to do the new skill independently. This will provide agency which leads to intrinsic motivation. Step four is how you can cultivate independence in your child. You mustn’t over-correct or even correct at all during this step. Allow your child to figure things out through repetitive action and often failure.
Do you remember why my husband and I did everything for our kids? It's because it felt easy. But these reasons why independence is so essential to help remind me that it isn't making anything easy to achieve our goal of raising adults.
Thanks for reading this resource! If you want additional information on this subject, check out this “Life Skills by Age” Guide. It’s super helpful to realize where we are ahead of the curve or a little behind on teaching our kids skills that will benefit them into adulthood.