18 December 2013

We Need To Teach Children Basic Living Skills


In an era where parents get so excited their children have black belts, are learning Mandarin, score numerous goals on the soccer field and have the lead in the school play I have some concerns that we might be missing the boat. Are we teaching children basic survival, life skills? When I was growing up we had chores, helped around the house, worked in the garden, helped can and preserve food, and helped in the kitchen. We earned and managed our own money. We cleaned our own rooms. Did we do a great job? No. Was it always fun for our parents? I'm sure NOT. Did we sometimes just make more work for the adults? Yes, I'm sure we were terribly annoying sometimes!

I am the oldest in my family and from a very, very early age I was able to cook a meal that would keep us alive. It might not be pretty but I could do it. I learned very early to make pancakes, grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese from a box, Ramen noodles...okay not always that healthy, but we ate straight from the land most of the time when my mother cooked so I doubt very much that a little processed food hurt us too much every once in a while.

But my point is long before I was ten I could put a meal on the table for my sister and I and my dad if my mom was away. And I dare say both my sisters were possibly younger than me when they could do the same. I was baking about the same time and was making pies from scratch when I was twelve. To me this did not seem very unusual. When I was a very tiny girl I was measuring flour and helping my grandmother in the kitchen. My parents and grandparents involved me in the daily work of life from birth. Before I was twelve I had taken several childcare/babysitting, safety and cooking classes taught in the community and sometimes through 4-H classes taught by friends' mothers.

When I got into my late teens I was stunned to see girls in college who did not know how to do dishes or cook or grocery shop and who were incapable of doing their own laundry or tidying up their bedrooms. I watched other children reach adulthood having never once helped their mother put a meal on the table or cleaned their house or had chores. From my background this was stunning and put these children behind the eight ball when it came to surviving basic living skills in adulthood. I watched them stumble and sometimes fall hard. Some of these kids have had several failed marriages, have been emotionally unable to manage adult life, unable to hold down jobs, been in trouble with the law and have failed at much of what they have attempted as adults. It's great to be the best dressed kid at school with the coolest car or a genius foreign language speaker or star athlete but if you can't do the basics you will struggle. If you don't know how to keep food in your house, do your laundry or get yourself out of bed in the morning and be on time to where you need to be without a parent doing it for you, you're going to have a very hard time in life. We need to prepare children for life in a better way than this.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I'm thinking about what I can do to help our little lady be more self sufficient. Lately we've been working on cleaning up one's own dishes and rinsing them and putting them in the dishwasher. I see that she is very able, but it doesn't get done unless I remind. Now it's getting easier and it is starting to get a little more automatic.

If there are two things that I think require an annoyingly constant effort when it comes to adults teaching children and preparing them for adulthood they are 1) teaching them daily living skills and discipline and 2) teaching them to eat healthily. Both will have such a major, major impact on their health, well-being and success as they grow and when they are adults. But the daily need to consistently reinforce these two things every day has driven more than one parent to just give up. And the kiddos suffer.

We can all see it absolutely reflected in our communities that when children are not taught to eat healthily and are allowed to only eat whatever they want they suffer, especially from processed, nutrition-less foods. There were no obese kids when I was growing up. None. And now it is a major life concern a generation into parents taking the easy way out when feeding their kids. I've mentioned this before, but we went through hell for a few months when The Bug was about three to teach her to try everything twice before she refused to eat it. And she will try anything now and likes just about everything. She is very conscious about eating healthy foods. It wasn't fun, we paid the price but the rewards are life-long and our lives are SO much easier now for having suffered for a brief time to help instill the right lessons. Everywhere we go people comment on what a good, well-rounded eater she is. We paid the price for a short time and are reaping the benefits and more importantly, she will for life.

The same goes for basic living skills. We are trying to work on these things but still have a long way to go. Two of our small triumphs have been having her help fold and put away laundry and helping in the kitchen. When she was just three she has the assignments to fold all the small towels and wash clothes and put them away and after we took anything sharp out of the dishwasher silverware tray she put away and organized all the forks, butter knives and spoons. Household chores is one area I strongly believe in getting started young. They get more and more grumpy about it every year, so creating a pattern where they are expected to help at a very early age relieves some of the grief of trying to get them to help as they get older. Good luck trying to start a kid on helping around the house at 8, 10, or 15.

There are still too many nights when I do the dishes by myself because she's busy doing homework and days when The Man and I pick up more than we should of her stuff, but seeing little bits of continued progress keeps me going. We are trying to instill the instinct that if you see an adult working around the house, you stop what you are doing, come and ask "What can I do to help?" with the understanding that some times there will be nothing she can do to help, but she should always check.

We want her to be aware of the work that is being done around her and to always be willing to chip in if there is something she can do. It's amazing how quickly her attitude and self-image climb when she's been able to help us out with something, even if she doesn't want to at the beginning. That is another lesson I am trying to teach, that helping and working make us happy and make us feel good inside. I try to point that out every time I see it happen in her so that she learns to recognize it on her own.

I am thinking a lot about pulling back on activities outside the house to make sure that all the important things from inside the house, inside our family and inside our girl are well-developed, healthy and able. Because really what I want for her is a happy, healthy life (emotionally, physically and mentally), with good relationships, and the ability to thrive and live well. There are many things that children can only learn in their own homes and most often best by their parents and grandparents and other influential adults in their lives. Let us not forget those things as we encourage our kiddos to excel out in the world. Their best life lessons still come from home!

image via mca

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