When it comes to educating kids, it’s all too easy to focus only on academics. While this is important, there are other life lessons that mean the difference between making a living and making a life. Children look to their parents for guidance, from the time they are born until their early teens (if you’re lucky), but over time, we lose that exclusivity. We get bumped lower on the list of experts. Kids look to their friends and make attempts to try on their fresh independence. The truth is, their too-cool status is underpinned with insecurity and, to some degree, defensiveness. Here’s a list of ten life lessons to address while the window of opportunity still exists.
What all kids need to understand before they’re too cool to listen
1. Their Purpose
Kids should know that they are here for a purpose. It’s not just about school performance or levels on the latest video game. They need to discover what really lights them up! Granted, this might change over time, but no experience is ever wasted. As the saying goes, “Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” Saying yes to their purpose helps them say no to negative influences that will inevitably cross their path.
2. How to Talk to Their Grandparents
Or older adults in general. Obviously, it is your job to identify the safe, healthy connections. I know some older adults that I wouldn’t trust with a goldfish, but most grandparents are a gift and blessing to kids. It’s not just about the stories they hear and lessons they can learn, but the feeling of being completely and utterly loved that makes all the difference.
3. Their Personality
Most kids find learning more about themselves is fascinating. One famous personality test is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. While parts of this test aren’t valid until your child is older, some parts of personality are set at a very young age. Your job is to help them develop awareness of trends. For example, is your child an introvert or extrovert? How does that translate into relationships, school, and activities? While they definitely shouldn’t feel locked into any particular label, knowing what makes them tick can help demystify some of their experiences which reduces anxiety and frustration.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, right? Kids need to learn what money is, what it isn’t, and how to make and manage it. You may have to challenge your own beliefs and behaviors about money because kids learn most efficiently by example. Many experts explain that money isn’t evil, it’s simply an amplifier. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins describes money as portable power. Whether a person’s intentions are good or bad, money will expand that reach. Be careful about how you talk about money around your kids. Show them how to establish a budget for themselves that includes saving, spending, and giving. If you’re stumped, money expert Dave Ramsey has a book series for kids that is a great starting point.
5. Serving Others
Volunteering is an incredible activity with opportunities for almost every age. It has the power to boost your mood, it can help clarify your strengths and weaknesses, give an outlet for your purpose, and most importantly, it’s the best way to develop a sense of gratitude. Do an online search for volunteer opportunities in your area. Homeless shelters, animal rescue centers, churches, and hospitals are great places to start. If you’re short on time, consider volunteering for a specific event like a race or fundraising event.
Yes, this one is a bummer, but as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I can’t help but highlight this often-overlooked point. Our society is tends to separate themselves from death compared to other cultures. This lack of understanding about a natural part of the life cycle can leave children confused, angry, and with potentially unresolved grief. Involve your children in the conversation about death and grief in an age-appropriate way. If they’re old enough to ask, they deserve an answer. When they stop actively listening, change the subject, or walk away, they’ve heard enough. Go ahead and stop mid-sentence.This is an important lesson to start while you can because if you wait too long, they are too cool to accept comfort and ask for explanations. Don’t wait for a big devastating loss. If you’re lucky, you can start the conversation when the goldfish dies. Take part in the “ceremony” your child would like to have for the petand talk about their feelings as they come up. It may seem silly, but it lays an important framework for healthy grieving later on.
7. Basic Etiquette
First impressions often start around a meal, so be sure to give your child the gift of confidence. They should know what each utensil is for, the correct way to eat certain foods, and rules of behavior at the table. While it is not necessary to make each meal a drill session, this is practical, useful advice that is worthy of your effort. If you need to brush up on your knowledge, a great resource is The Etiquette Scholar website. Knowing the rules instills confidence which will help your child relax about the details of the table and focus more on conversation and connections.
8. How Their Bodies Work
This can be a tough one because you might have to do some prep work on yourself to move past any feelings of embarrassment. Part of developing a body positive mindset is to know what the body parts are called (the real terms, not something you just made up). Practice saying them out loud before you talk to your child. Kids can detect shame and insecurity a mile away. Again, if they are old enough to ask, they are old enough to get an answer. Answer the question and only the question and stop talking the moment their interest turns away from you. Lose the embarrassment and be the authority so they don’t feel compelled to get their information from someone who might have an ulterior motive and/or limited knowledge.
9. Parents are the Imperfect Expert
Ultimately, it’s not much of a stretch to say that when it comes to your child, you want to position yourself as an expert. How do experts get where they are? By listening, learning, and staying curious. Take time to ask question and listen to your child. If she shares something with you, then it’s automatically relevant and therefore valuable. By demonstrating that you value her experience, perspective, and journey—while openly admitting you are still growing and learning yourself—you lock in your spot as the go-to expert in this wild ride we call life.