• use a microwave
• plan and shop for a healthy diet
• read nutrition labels and know what's good and what's not
• prepare, serve and store food to avoid spoilage
• cook a well-balanced meal
• know which kitchen tools and equipment to use for which tasks
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Everyday Life Skills Your Teens Should Know
To help our kids become happy adults, we have to give them the gift of competence. Kids who can handle everyday tasks, from laundry to banking, are happier and more confident. Whether they're still under your roof or heading off to college, it's never too late to start teaching them how to be self-sufficient.
• make a weekly or monthly budget and stick to it
• use an ATM
• open, use and balance a checking account
• apply for a credit card and use it responsibly
• save up to buy a desired item
• set aside money for charity
• keep track of important papers
• sew on a button
• mend a seam
• iron garments
• fold and put away clothing
• follow fabric-care labels
• do laundry, including treating simple stains
• wash and dry items by hand
• fold clothes
• pack a suitcase
• find the circuit breaker and use it
• locate and use water and furnace shutoffs
• use a fire extinguisher
• perform basic first aid
• fix a running toilet
• do laundry, including treating simple stains
• use all household appliances, like loading the dishwasher the right way
• pump gas
• check oil level and add oil if needed
• check washer fluid and add more if necessary
• arrange routine maintenance
• jump-start car
• change tire
• check and add air to tires
• produce documents if stopped by police
Getting the Message Across
While there's no one-size-fits-all approach, there are ways to get your kid's attention and cooperation—no matter how much he may grumble.
Play the independence card. Nobody loves being told what to do—especially teens, says Ron Zodkevitch, M.D., author of The Toughlove Prescription (McGraw-Hill) and a Family Circle Health Advisory Board member. "Knowing they can handle themselves without someone directing them is very motivating." When you suggest a lesson, say to your teen or tween, "I'd like to show you how to cook a few dishes [or other life skill], so you can take care of yourself when you're on your own."
Talk about safety. Every once in a while things go wrong; it makes sense to address life's realities. Say: "Stuff happens. To be safe, you need to know what to do in case of a power outage [flat tire, etc.]."
Be matter-of-fact. When teaching even the simplest skill, make sure your tone isn't condescending. Also try to explain the benefits of doing something a certain way. Try, "Separate the dark clothes from the light before washing or you'll end up with gray underwear."
Get specific. Break the job into small steps and work with your teen for a few lessons until he knows what he's doing. Be very explicit about what you expect: "The lawn mower gas can has to be recapped and put back in the garage, not left on the lawn." Compliment all efforts.
Look for an opening. When your kids complain "Chicken again?" have them plan a meal, including putting the ingredients on the shopping list, and prepare it with your help. Anita Blackman, who has taught life skills to Florida middle and high schoolers for 42 years, suggests making life lessons a part of your family routine. "Assign each kid a day of the week to fix dinner," she says. Or at bill-paying time, have them write the checks for you to sign, as practice for when they have their own account.
Ask what they'd like to learn. You'll get nowhere trying to force-feed your ideas to an uninterested teen. Instead, start with something he wants to master, then build from there. For example, say, "Now that you've conquered your favorite pasta dish, how about meatballs or turkey burgers?"
Appeal to the ego. Have your son teach you something, like how to download material to your iPad. In the glow of his success, he may be more open to listening when you bring up money management.
Time the lessons. If he's a morning grouch, don't suggest a new skill at the breakfast table. If she's watching her favorite TV show, don't try to recruit her as your sous-chef when it's on. Likewise, the teen who has daily swim team practices may be more receptive on the weekend than during the week.
Know when to back off. Nobody likes to be micromanaged. Similarly, don't impose arbitrary standards. Your vision of clean, sorted and folded laundry may not match his. "When kids view things as a parent's personal taste, they feel less obliged to comply," says Christine Schelhas-Miller, Ed.D., who teaches adolescent development at Cornell University. "As long as he's made a reasonable attempt, let it go." If he doesn't care whether his socks are paired, so be it.
Highlight what's in it for her. Point out that if she makes her own lunch, she gets to choose what she eats. Or if she learns to make lasagna, you'll reward her by helping pay for a dinner party for her friends.
Originally published in the April 18, 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine.