10 Life Skills Your Kid Needs Before They Leave The Nest

by Wendy Wisner
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I have been lucky to be blessed with two good boys. They embody so many of the traits that I always hoped my kids would have. They are thoughtful, kind, funny, and smart. They fight too much, and annoy the heck out of me sometimes, but that comes with the territory. I’m even lucky in that my boys do well in school, and without too much struggle. I really can’t complain, and when I think of my boys’ future, it definitely looks bright.

However, as they get older, I’m realizing that being a good person and a success in school will only get you so far. There are some real-life skills that every kid needs to learn, and I have a confession to make: I am failing miserably at teaching my kids these skills. Yeah, they bring their plates to the table after dinner (they’ve only been doing this for the past year… gulp), and throw their clothes in the hamper when I beg tell them to.

But in seven short years my 11-year-old will be leaving the nest, and picking up after himself is definitely not the only skill he’s going to need. I’m realizing that I need to step up my game, and I need to do it now. And I have a feeling there are a lot of you out there secretly falling short, like me, when it comes to teaching your kids these skills.

Here are just a few of the “real-life skills” our kids should master before being thrown to the wolves (errrr, living independently on their own):

1. Laundry

Everyone I talked to mentioned laundry. You gotta learn how to do it, including how to use coin/card operated machines. Oh, and other basics like remembering to add detergent, separating darks and lights (if that’s your thing), and how all those fancy temperature dials work. Don’t forget about folding, either, though I will look the other way if you don’t teach your kid how to fold a fitted sheet, because only unicorns know how to do that.

2. How to cook a basic meal

True story: my husband (then boyfriend) had to call me from college because he didn’t know how to boil an egg. Teach your kid how to boil an egg, cook up a bowl of ramen, and make pancakes from a mix. You know, easy things that are hard to totally screw up. And make sure they are foods that your kid actually likes to eat.

3. Grocery shop

Our kids need to know their way around the store. They need to know how to find basic stuff, and how to ask for help when they can’t find it (without texting Mom!). Same goes for how to get basics at the drug store, clothing store, shoe store, etc.

4. How to manage their money

Many of my friends mentioned the importance of teaching kids to manage their finances. This includes how to balance a budget, and how to use credit cards wisely (important one!). You can also teach them how mortgages and car loans work.

5. How to save money

Oh, and while you’re at it, teach them how to save a little cash here and there, please (teach me too?). You can start with their allowance: help them to put a little money away each week for the larger purchases they want to make. Such a good, simple lesson.

6. Basic cleaning tasks

You gotta teach your kid some basic cleaning (beyond just picking up after themselves). First and foremost, teach them how to clean a bathroom. Teach them now, and put them to work. They should also know how to operate the vacuum, load and unload the dishwasher, mop and wipe down surfaces, take out the trash, and do basic yard work (like pulling weeds). And don’t forget to teach them how to unclog a toilet… trust me, they will need that skill more often than you think.

7. How to care for a car

This is a big one. Everyone needs to know how to check the pressure on their tires, make sure the oil and fluids are in good shape, and how to keep to a car maintenance schedule. Your kid should know how to pump gas (I know some grown-ups who still don’t know!). And please: teach your kid how to change a flat. You don’t want them to end up like me.

8. How to make phone calls

See also: how to talk with customer service reps. Oh my goodness, kids these days do not know how to talk on the phone. Yes, a lot is done electronically, but sometime your kid is going to have to call a company to dispute a bill or change service, and they need to know how to do it. You can’t do this stuff for them forever.

9. Taxes

Teach your kid how to do their taxes, or how to find a reputable accountant to help them with it. I swear: your kid is going get their first job, and not know the first thing about what a W-2 is or the fact that you actually might owe money back to the government at the end of the year. Yikes. Help them get a handle on it before Uncle Sam comes by and smacks them in the face.

10. Organization skills

They should know how to make a to-do list, figure out when and how tasks should get done, and be responsible for keeping promises to themselves and others. Let them start now, and let them take charge themselves (i.e., stay out of it). It might mean that their homework won’t get done, and they only take one shower a week, but sometimes you gotta let your kids fail so that they learn how to prioritize things in life. It completely works.

Of course, my father-in-law (bless him) was quick to add this little gem to the list: “Teach them to do what they love,” which I think is just as important as anything else. Following your heart and your dreams; making choices that allow you to live your life to the fullest; and being in touch with who you are and what you want and need is probably one of the most important life skills of all.

But none of that precludes the fact that all grown-ups need to know how to make themselves a sandwich and unclog a toilet (not at the same time, though!). So get on it, my friends. Your kid will grumble and protest about some of these things, but a few years down the line, they will totally thank you. I promise.