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Developing Life Skills at Home

Help kids’ confidence and ability to take care of themselves by learning life skills at home.

By Laura Boycourt

Virtual classes, including everything from second grade Language Arts to AP Calculus, will become second nature to online learners in this new, remote landscape. But some material, like home and life skills, risks falling to the wayside as students focus more on core subjects. 

While you and your family are home more often this winter, and your kids are in need of non-screen activities, use this handy list with plenty of expert advice to break down which life skills kids should be learning at home. 

First Aid Basics

While nothing can replicate an in-person First Aid or CPR class, there are plenty of ways adults can help kids develop First Aid skills. 

Darlene Scriber, with the American Red Cross of the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region, says the organization’s online courses provide important skills that everyone should know. “Designed for parents and teachers, adults and teenagers, troop leaders, coaches, and more, our online first aid courses allow you to help those in crisis receive care until medical professionals arrive.”

Scriber says the organization has developed online courses that can help you help others in their time of need. The courses feature interactive modules that can be completed from your home computer. For example, “Prepare with Pedro,” offers young children activities and games to introduce staying safe during emergencies and natural disasters. They are free to download and available at ready.gov/kids/prepare-with-pedro

Similarly, “The Pillowcase Project,” an online workbook available to download, teaches children in grades 3 to 5 about safety, coping skills, natural hazards, and personal preparedness. For all Red Cross virtual offerings, check out redcross.org.

Emotional and Mental Health

Attending classes from home, being apart from peers, and uncertainty surrounding current events can be difficult for children. So checking in on your child’s emotional and mental health and helping them cope with the realities of today is crucial.

Dr. Lauren Cashion, a psychiatrist with the Annapolis Child and Family Therapy Center, says mental health professionals are seeing increases in rates of anxiety and depression among young people and recognizes the many emotions they’re experiencing due to the pandemic.

“Children and adolescents are struggling with the same anxieties regarding unknowns as adults,” Cashion says. “School-age children are lacking opportunities for social interactions that guide their development. Teens are missing connecting with peers, their greatest influencers. Kids feel lonely and frustrated—sometimes angry. They may struggle with self-regulation, resulting in uncharacteristic emotionality and outbursts.”

On top of those troubles, Cashion says, “You then layer the complexities of school. Whether it is virtual, in-person, or hybrid, youth are facing an educational experience different from anything they have known.”

Opening up about feelings and acknowledging the challenges can help. “Children are inherently resilient, however, they need to be well-supported, Cashion says. “Acknowledging their (everyone’s) distress is just as important and supporting their resiliency.”

Offering kids opportunities to connect and take care of themselves physically can improve their state of mind as well. “Finding opportunities to engage in activities outside school (again virtually or in a safe in-person environment) allows not only some level of social engagement, but connecting with peers normalizes the abnormality of the situation—when they are able to realize that they are not as alone as it sometimes feels this reduces stress,” she says. “Exercise, always important, is now more so. The same is true for regular, and adequate, sleep.”

Setting a good example can be effective, too.

“Kids are social cognitive learners—they model what they see—and, in this way can be supported and guided by the adults in their lives,” explains Cashion.

Personal Finance/Budgeting

Developing solid economic and personal finance skills when kids are young is a very good thing, says Julie Weaver, executive director of the Maryland Council on Economic Education. It’s also good to expand and reinforce those skills as they mature, she says. 

“The best approach is a building blocks approach, beginning with basic concepts such as needs versus wants and the opportunity cost of choosing one thing or experience over another,” Weaver says. 

She recommends that parents head to the bank with their children during their early grade school years. “Elementary school is a great time for parents to open a savings account with their child to help the child learn the basics of saving money,” Weaver explains. She also encourages counting coins and explaining bills.

Weaver says kids can also learn financial responsibility by doing chores around the house for an allowance and saving their income (and spending a portion on something they want, too). Once children are a bit older, they can get involved with budgeting and begin to think about what their own business might look like.

“Middle school is a great time to introduce budgeting and involve children in the family’s budget,” Weaver says. A child in middle school can help with planning the grocery list and budget each week. 

Middle school is also a great time to teach children about entrepreneurship and career options, Weaver says. “Great lessons in entrepreneurship can be learned in having a simple bake sale where a child can learn about the costs of production, pricing strategy, marketing, and measuring return on investment.”

For high schoolers, Weaver recommends that kids become familiar with topics like insurance, credit and debt, credit scores, and “long-term saving concepts,” like an IRA account. 

“It is imperative to have these conversations before a child goes off to college or the working world so that they don’t fall prey to predatory lenders or make poor decisions about financing their education,” she adds.

Day to Day Skills

Laundry

Walk your kids through the basics of operating the washing machine and dryer, and how to sort clothes. Follow it up with a quick tutorial of folding and keeping clothes organized in dressers and/or closets. For younger kids, something as simple as letting them attempt to sort and fold laundry will go a long way for their self esteem.

Cooking

Introducing your child to measurements and cooking implements is an easy way to begin their culinary education. Using measuring spoons, mixing, and setting the table are all things younger children can help with. Teens can follow recipes to assist in multi-step family meals. 

Taking Care of a Pet…or a Plant

Helping feed pets or watering plants adds up in teaching kids responsibility in caring for a living thing. Have your younger child help scoop dog or cat food. Have your younger child help scoop dog or cat food. If they’re older, kids can take Fido for a walk or change the bedding in the hamster cage. If the flowers need tending, a kid-friendly watering can help develop a young green thumb.

Using Tools

A basic understanding of tools is a great way to give kids skills that can carry them through their lives. Smaller hands can become familiar with tape measures and “practice” hammering and sawing with versions made for kids. Once they’re old enough, children and teens can assist parents with DIY work around the house.

Learn more on kids’ mental health during virtual learning.

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