25 Basic Life Skills Parents Need To Teach Their Kids

Have you ever met an adult who didn’t know how to do a basic life skill that you thought should have been obvious? It’s amazing sometimes what people aren’t taught when they’re kids. If you don’t want any of your kids to be that occasionally helpless adult, make sure they learn these basic life skills.

1. Laundry

It’s amazing how many people head out on their own with no idea how to do the laundry. My husband sometimes talks about how often he would see people in tears in the college laundry room the first weekend of school. Other times he would see people hauling bags of laundry home each week for their parents to handle.

Laundry is a basic household chore kids should be helping with as soon as they’re old enough. Folding laundry can start at a pretty young age. Loading the washing machine, adding the soap and choosing the right cycle should wait until the kids are tall enough for the job. Even very young kids can help push clothes into the dryer, though. My youngest thought that was fun for the longest time.

2. Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping sounds so easy, but it’s not that easy to do right. Teach your kids how to do grocery shopping on a budget and for specific meals. Have them go through the weekly ads so they know what the best deals are that week during the planning process. If you’re out of a basic ingredient they might not notice right away, they’ll remember that lesson for the next time.

Older kids can be sent to the store to do much of the shopping themselves, but you don’t have to leave the younger kids out of it. As soon as they’re old enough, start sending kids to different parts of the store to fetch things for you. This way they’ll be more comfortable when it comes time to do the whole job.

3. Cooking

It can be truly horrifying when you realize how many people have no idea how to cook a healthy meal, something better than food from a box or a can. You can get by that way, but your kids will be better off as adults if they can handle cooking healthy meals from scratch.

Of course, even in healthy cooking, canned foods may have their place. Make sure your kids can use the can opener too.

One other important cooking skill is knowing what to do when the smoke alarm goes off because dinner is getting a little smokey. That’s the one time when it makes more sense to disconnect the smoke alarm and air out the house, rather than assume a fire has started somewhere. There’s always the standard “dinner’s ready!” comment you can make as the smoke alarm screams… so long as they also understand when it’s serious.

4. Table Manners

You may or may not eat at the kitchen table regularly as a family. No matter what, your kids should know the basics of table manners.

You don’t have to cover every place setting for a huge, fancy meal. Do make them comfortable with using the usual utensils correctly, passing food around, using napkins properly and so forth.

This may be important in their careers, depending on what they do. Some people meet with clients over meals, and lots of jobs have occasional company parties to attend. Having proper manners will keep them from making a bad impression. Not to mention how they may look on dates.

table manners

5. What To Do With Leftovers

Lots of people are bad about leftovers, or at least eating them. There’s a reason why most people have to clean them out of the refrigerator so often.

Teach your kids about how long leftovers stay good in the fridge, and what containers are safe for reheating in the microwave. Not every to go food container belongs in the microwave, nor do all dishes.

6. Taking Medication Safely

Taking medication safely isn’t that difficult in most ways, but it’s very important. Antibiotics, for example, are most effective when taken on the prescribed schedule at the correct dosage.

You can start out by teaching your older kids what dosage to take of relatively safe medications. My older kids handle it themselves if they need some ibuprofen, for example. My youngest is not yet allowed to do this on her own.

7. Expiration Dates

Food expiration dates can be a bit tricky, but it’s important to understand that they don’t always mean the food has expired. More important to know is how long foods should stay good in your refrigerator, and what it smells like as it goes bad.

Medication expiration dates can be important too. Some medications can become poisonous over time, while others will merely be a little less effective. Teach your kids to look up expired medications before use for safety.

8. Ordering At A Restaurant

Don’t always place food orders for your kids. Have them order for themselves. Do this not only at fast food places but at sit down restaurants as well. It’s not difficult once your kids are used to.

Your kids should also learn the basic etiquette around tipping. Who to tip and how much can be important in certain situations.

Teach them the easy way to calculate 10% by simply moving the decimal over on the bill total, and then going to 20% by doubling that. Rounding the numbers off makes it all easier, of course.

9. Money Management

It’s important for kids to have limited spending money from a young age so that they learn to manage their money well. This is an incredibly important yet basic life skill so that they know what they can afford to spend on things as adults and stay within their budgets.

You can start this one out with budgets for buying gifts for friends, as well as using their own spending money for things. As kids get older, give them an appropriate budget to buy their own clothes. This one can make picky kids a lot less choosy, as they realize they can’t buy everything they want.

piggy bank

10. Basic Computer/Tech Troubleshooting

I know this is a weakness of many adults, and it might be for you as well. But the more basic troubleshooting you can handle on your own technology, the less you have to call for help. Of course, depending on your kids, they may be handling the tech troubleshooting for you.

Sometimes this is as simple as restarting the device. That’s the first thing I ask my kids when they say something isn’t working. If they haven’t done a reboot, I send them to do one. This solves a ton of problems. It even works for a lot of router problems if you reboot the router.

Other problems are more serious. Make sure your kids know how to run a malware scanner so they can handle things if they suspect a computer virus or similar problem.

Many computer problems can be resolved by searching on the problem, and then following the directions you find. I always have people in awe of the things I can solve on the computer, but really it was all Google. I just followed the directions.

If you’re more ambitious, some basic troubleshooting and repairs can be done to the components of the device itself. I’ve helped my son build a computer, but even before that I had switched out RAM, replaced a power supply and a fan on various computers of mine. Much of this is not all that hard to do, and kept us from needing expensive repairs.

11. Keeping Tech Use Legal

Lots of people make mistakes in using technology. I remember when downloading music illegally was a huge thing. Then lots of people were sued by the music companies, and the illegality of the whole thing became clear. Many people learned painful and expensive lessons.

Illegal downloads are still a problem, and as parents, you should teach your kids to keep things legal. It could save you trouble, as well as help your kids down the road.

For example, I found out my oldest was watching anime on a website her high school anime club used. When I looked it up, I had to inform her that there was a problem – the site wasn’t streaming legal copies. Fortunately, it also turned out to be easy to find legal sites for her to use. It had never occurred to her that someone might use an illegal site at school.

Sexting is another thing you want to discuss with your kids. Even sending a picture of themselves could be considered child pornography when they’re underage. There’s also the risk of having pictures shared to other people without permission. This may not be a comfortable topic to discuss with your kids, but it could be an important one.

12. Following Directions

Whether it’s following the directions given by a GPS, directions on how to build something, following a recipe or following instructions from their boss, kids need to know how to follow directions.

Have your kids do these things as they grow up. Get them kits to build things. When they’re old enough to cook, have them follow recipes. You could even write out directions to a place you want them to go and have them walk or ride a bike there.

13. Mailing Things

I know, most people don’t mail a lot of things right now. Email and texting are so much easier, as is online bill pay. But there will be times in your child’s life that they have to mail something.

Setting your child up with a pen pal could be a fun way to teach this. Don’t let them just email – have them send letters or small packages back and forth. And tell them how lucky they are that they don’t have to lick stamps anymore.

14. How To Clean Everything In The House

Kids should have age appropriate chores starting at a young age. Sometimes their “help” will make the job go more slowly for you, but that’s how they learn to do things.

As kids get into their teens, make sure they know how to do everything it takes to keep a house clean. This should eventually include the jobs that are done relatively rarely, such as cleaning the refrigerator coils – an important job if you have cats or dogs who shed a lot!

If you’re comfortable opening up a computer, you may also want to include how to dust the inside of a computer. Dust gets really bad in most of them, and it’s better for your computer if it gets cleaned off sometimes.

kid cleaning

15. Household Repairs

Teach your kids how to handle basic household repairs. This can include painting walls, hanging pictures with a nail, dealing with a running toilet, dealing with minor clogs, and so forth.

Just how many household repairs you teach depends on what you can handle and what you’re comfortable learning yourself online. The more you can handle yourself, the less often you have to pay a professional to do it for you.

16. Car Maintenance

While you don’t have to teach your kids how to change a car’s oil unless you want to, they must learn how often the job needs to be done. This is also a good time to teach your kids how to talk to a professional. Confidence in dealing with the various professionals you have to deal with in life is a big help.

How to change a flat is also important. Fix A Flat is often an option, but it may not be the best one all the time.

17. Safe Sex

It doesn’t matter if you believe that sex should be reserved for marriage or if your only concern is that your kids take appropriate precautions when having sex. All teens need to know the rules for safe sex. This may help when relationships move toward the physical side of things. Many well meaning teens let things go further than they meant to in the heat of the moment.

Talk to your kids about your beliefs about sex and marriage at the same time. Just give them the tools to protect their health and decide if they want to risk a pregnancy at the same time. Teens will do what they’re going to do no matter what parents teach them.

18. Taking Public Transit

Having your own car is a wonderful thing. You may plan on your kids each having their own car as they reach appropriate ages. But they should still learn how to take public transit.

Find your local bus schedules online and help your kids figure out how to get from Point A to Point B using public transit, and head out together. Have your kids handle as much of the process as possible.

This is important because you never know when the need to take public transit may come up. In some places, it’s a major way of getting around.

19. Job Hunting & Interviewing

Looking for a job is no fun for anyone, and interviewing can be scary. Make sure your kids have some idea what to expect with each.

Remember that some of the rules for job hunting have changed in recent years. Going from business to business and asking if they’re hiring isn’t as effective as it used to be. Lots of companies only want people to apply online, and they don’t want to be called and asked about applications. That’s often seen more negatively now.

That said, if your teen sees a company hiring the old fashioned way, with a sign in the window, have them go in and apply. Those first jobs can be hard to find.

For interviews, practice keeping eye contact with your teen and help them learn how to deal with the questions that are likely to be asked. Teens spend a lot of time using technology these days, so they aren’t always good with eye contact or knowing when to shake a hand.

20. Advocate For Themselves

I know how tempting it is to be your child’s best advocate. There are lots of times when it’s appropriate. But there also comes a time with most kids when it’s better for them to learn to advocate for themselves.

You can start this when they’re at an appropriate age in school and need to go to a teacher to discuss a problem with an assignment. Don’t insist on doing this for them throughout their entire school careers. There comes a time when they should handle it.

The ability to speak up for themselves will help your kids as adults. They need to be comfortable saying something when issues come up at work or with friends. This is especially important in learning to say “no” to people, whether in a romantic relationship or a professional one.

21. Packing For A Trip

I know a lot of parents prefer to pack for their kids when going on a family trip. This ensures that the kids have everything they need. No forgotten toothbrushes or other important supplies!

Kids need to learn to do this themselves. Once they’re old enough, start by telling them how many days to pack for, and then check what they’ve packed. Talk about where they packed too much or too little. Eventually, they’ll know how to do the job right.

When visiting family, I also extend this to packing up stuff to return home. My kids have gone weeks without a beloved toy because they left it at Grandma’s. They don’t forget things often now, because they know I won’t let Grandma mail anything forgotten to us without very good reason. Most items can wait for us until the next visit.

22. Doing Things On Time

How good are your kids at getting up on time for school? Turning in assignments on time? What about handling chores in a reasonable timeframe?

All these things are basic life skills. Lots of people lose jobs because they’re chronically late or frequently take too long to complete assigned tasks.

For school assignments, my kids’ middle school has them keep an agenda with assignments and due dates. I love that the school teaches them to track assignments.

Teach your kids to start work early on long term assignments. I’ve had the occasional run-in with my kids with the old “this huge assignment is due tomorrow and I need books for it right now!” thing. I’ve snoozed on the couch so they could ask for help late at night… our printer can be really fussy at inconvenient times, and it took a while to teach the kids how to handle the various issues.

As we’ve worked through these issues, my kids have greatly improved their time management abilities. Late nights are a rare thing for my high schooler, when they used to be common. My middle schooler has always been the organized sort. We’ll see what happens with the youngest.

23. Helping Others

Have your kids do volunteer work. What they can do will depend on your area and what’s permitted for their ages.

We’re lucky that a local animal shelter lets us volunteer, right down to my youngest child. We’re kind of grandfathered in, as they changed their volunteer minimum age a year or two ago. But since they know my youngest is not only good with animals but wants to be a vet, they’re willing to let her keep volunteering.

kid volunteering

24. Talking To Strangers

You’ve heard of the old “Stranger Danger” thing no doubt, but I believe there are better rules than that to teach your kids to be safer around strangers. The big one is that there are appropriate times to talk to a stranger, but it’s not safe to go places with a stranger.

Many people feel that it is better to teach kids about “tricky people” rather than stranger danger. This takes more judgment on the part of your kids, but good judgment is something you want them to learn.

Just think about how likely it is that a child may have to ask a stranger for help. Being mildly lost is an even more scary thing if you aren’t supposed to talk to strangers who might help you.

Teach your kids that it’s okay to yell for help if there’s a problem, fight back if attacked, and so forth. Teach them which adults are the best to approach if they are lost, such as a parent with kids, or an employee of the place that they’re at.

As they get older, help them get comfortable with the everyday conversations adults have with strangers. Even little kids can chat with the cashier or the friendly person you’re talking to when you’re out and about. So long as they know what the limits should be and what to do when there’s a problem, it’s pretty safe. It’s also necessary if your kids are going to function as adults later.

25. Swimming

You may not have a swimming pool. I don’t have a swimming pool. But you better believe my kids know how to swim.

Swimming may not be vital for day to day life, but most people will have an opportunity to go swimming at some point. Maybe a friend will have a pool, or the apartment complex will have one. Maybe they go to the beach, lake or river. Knowing how to swim makes people much safer when they’re around the water. It’s also fun.

26?? Can You Think Of More Basic Life Skills?

What other basic life skills can you think of that should be shared with kids as they grow up? I must have missed some. Tell me about them.