Wednesday, December 2, 2009

LIFE SKILLS: Survival Version 1.0

Transcripted Table Talk from Mom's Time Out, a ministry serving young mothers at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship
March 12, 2009

Ben Hur, straining in his chariot, pulled forward by four wildly charging stallions, served as my personal metaphor for my life as a young mother. Just so, the nature of day-to-day parenting can become so intense that we tend to forget that the whole point is to train children for adulthood. Yet parents can contribute so much to enhance their children’s future happiness in marriage, their success in their careers, and to generally make their adult lives easier.

Obviously, knowing Jesus is absolutely the most needed life-skill we can give our children. As members of Moms Time Out, you already understand this, so I will focus on an overview of the second- and third-tier life-skills we should also provide to our children to help them make their way with confidence.

You are so blessed to be mothering in the computer age. Instruction for how to do absolutely anything is right at your fingertips. We didn’t have PC’s in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when my generation was in the thick of child rearing, and our young family was so financially strapped that we had no resources other than the public library. At times, it felt as though Steve and I were trying to invent both fire and the wheel! For instance, I taught myself how to play chess from the secondhand encyclopedia set we bought at a library book sale, and then taught the boys. They still play chess today (though I have remained a clueless opponent!) We learned most card games the same way. Now a computer can teach you the basics, then play with you at any level. There are times when this new ready-access to information makes me feel a bit like a cavewoman, but I am happy for you because your horizons are large.

In the course of training our sons skills for living, we were amazed to discover that children like to work. The responsibility of chores signifies a mature status to them, and they take pride in being able to contribute to the needs of the family. Working together in the home has the mysteriously added plus of binding the children more strongly to the family. Also, individual time spent with parents during the actual training of tasks is fulfilling your children’s desire for personal companionship with you; and of course, the work builds a lifetime work ethic. Knowing how to work hard enables children to feel confident and increases their future ability to be hired and to hold onto a job.

The following list of life skills will seem elementary to most adults. It doesn’t seem like we should have to teach these things, yet they're not common knowledge. It's the sort of knowledge that we all had to pick up some way or another - mostly the hard way. You will be giving your child a good jumpstart to adulthood by making sure they know these basics.


Cleaning: Teach them how to do a task, and if they did their best, say thank you, accept their results, and do not do it over yourself. I used a highly simplified version of the “Sidetracked Home Executives” method (

Survival Cooking: Begin instruction shortly after fractions are taught in school. Since this can be more stressful than it sounds, only teach 1 child a night/only 1 night a week. If possible, it’s nice to let them select a recipe from 4 or 5 you have pre-screened for suitability, or from a cookbook like Better Homes & Garden Jr. Cookbook.

Gardening: Give them a small garden spot (a strawberry pot or tub will do), and let them choose the flowers, vegetables, or herbs they desire to plant. Show how to prepare the soil with shovel or spade; how to plant, water, and trim their choices; then let them manage their garden alone. It is especially nice for them if you are gardening a plot, too. Make a big deal of giving extra produce/flowers to neighbors to foster the pleasure of giving.

Balance Accounts: Get an old check balance book and photocopy some checks. Enter an imaginary opening balance. Pretend to purchase five things from a Sunday newspaper sale flyer. For each purchase, show the children how to fill out a check properly, followed by entering and subtracting the purchases as they are selected. Here are some helpful websites with more ideas:;

Sport Safety (i.e., diving, climbing, etc.): Arrange for city lessons or some knowledgeable person to teach your children how to do these activities safely before the years when they will spontaneously be invited to do them with other children. Be sure to make skateboarders wear helmets and mouth guards. Teach bicycling safety: first on paper (paper street mock-ups, and separate paper cars and bikers you can move around to create differing situations), then by riding together on quiet streets.

Reading Maps: Knowing how to read a map is important to getting around the neighborhood and avoiding getting lost. (Also, helps avoid marital strife later in life if the GPS loses its charge. ;o) Start instruction at about 3rd grade. Have younger children notice landmarks such as street signs, buildings, unusual plant features, where the sun rises and sets each day, etc. (Interestingly, it has recently been discovered that the “mapping” areas of the human brain begin to atrophy with an individual's growing dependence upon a GPS.)

Voting: Vote in every election and take them with you into the voting booth. (This is allowed.) Make this a special family event. When your children are old enough to vote, continue to go together. Show them how you fill out the voter guide before you go to the polls, so that you will be a prepared and accurate voter. Even if you vote by mail, make a big family “deal” out of it by openly talking about the issues and filling out the ballot.


Laundry: Begin instruction around age 9. Show them how to sort their laundry and pre-treat stains. Demonstrate (several times) how to use the washing machine and how to determine how long to set the dryer. Show them how to clean out the lint trap in the dryer. Teach them the proper temperatures to use for each type of garment being laundered. Show them how to read the fabric care labels in their clothing. Google “laundry basics”, if uncertain.

Ironing: Begin at age 11 or 12. Instruct one child at a time on how to iron a dress shirt (collar, cuffs and placate first; followed with sleeves; then front and back shoulders; finally, the body). If you can iron a dress shirt, you can iron anything!

Basic Mending: Begin at about age 7 or 8. Only hand sewing is necessary. Show children how to: 1) thread a needle; 2) twist a knot in the thread; 3) make small straight stitches; 4) make hidden stitches (for hemming); and 5) replace a button. Be sure to give them continued practice by mending their own things.

Grocery Shopping: If they are strong enough to carry a grocery bag into the house, they are old enough for shopping instruction. Make a point of taking them to the store with you and explaining how to select the best fruits, vegetables, and meats. It is also wise to explain why you choose certain products over others, such as why you prefer a certain the milk-fat content, and so forth. Encourage both boys and girls to take Home Ec, if offered in school. The background really helps land that first job in many industries.

Household Repairs & Maintenance: This should be ongoing through the pre-teen and teen years as things crop-up around the house and yard (i.e., clean gutters, tighten doorknobs, unclog drains, etc).

Auto Maintenance: Many youth enjoy helping with the small aspects of automobile care. Whenever you're washing the car, filling the gas tank, or cleaning the windshield, and your youth says, "Can I do that?" take the time to show them how, and make it their job forever.

One (at least) Informal “Social” sport: This should be something that can be played casually with friends throughout their life (i.e., golf, bowling, bocce ball, tennis). City lessons are perfect and happily affordable.

Basics of How to Choose a Mate: Begin these discussions early in the life of your child. Everything in pop-culture will be deluging them with bad advice, so our parental goal is to plant good values and common sense early and deeply. For example, contrary to what the songs say, one can help falling in love, so one can choose a mate wisely. Emphasize to your children that as the physical side becomes involved in a relationship (starting with holding hands!), their judgment concerning their “special friend” will become clouded by their hormones. Also, advise them to visit their girl/boyfriend’s family often. The manner in which their intended treats their siblings is the manner in which they will be treated when the “crush” wears off. Encourage them to court for two years, if possible. A strong friendship between a couple is exceedingly important for lasting affection.

If you are a Christian, clearly establish that the only mixed-marriages that concern the Lord are those that are spiritually-mixed and knowingly so pursued. He has no concern over age, ethnicity, political party, etc., but His counsel is that we not be unequally yoked spiritually. Therefore, it is best to advise our children not to date outside of the faith, so that an inappropriate attachment doesn't form that is not God’s best. (Likewise, if the individual is not walking with the Lord, they, in turn, should not date Christians.)

PS (from my husband): “Tell the young mothers that kids should not have one-on-one dates (pardon the expression) until they are eligible for marriage and should not date anyone who is not a potential marriage candidate.” S.


Fill out a job application: Have them compile the important information for which all applications ask, such as job and education history, including dates and names of teachers or supervisors. Have them make a list of references that they can use on applications. Teach them the importance of neat and complete applications.

Handle money and credit: Teach your teens to be responsible consumers. Make sure that they understand how to budget, pay bills on time, and live within their means. Help them understand the burden of debt and how to avoid it. Teach them the importance of a good credit rating and the importance of savings.

Car Insurance: One significant and ongoing cost of having a car is the insurance fee. Have your teen speak with an insurance agent about what influences the cost of insurance (i.e., a ticket or accident, good grades, etc). Since parents will probably be paying for insuring the cars they will be driving initially, teens needs to know how their actions will be affecting the family budget.

Car Repairs: When you are doing car maintenance, ask your children to come with you to the service station. For teens, practice with them the questions you should ask the mechanic when taking the car in for service. Teach your teens how to check the fluids in their car. Show them the normal levels and when/how to add more. Teach them the colors of the vital fluids in their car and how to check the driveway for leaking fluids. Show them how to use a tire gage. Give them a list of maintenance instructions and indicate when the maintenance should be done.

Using Public Transportation: Take children for train and bus rides, show them how to purchase the tickets, and even let them order a taxi (777-7777) at least once before leaving home. Show them how to check routes, read timetables, and purchase tickets online.


Give a basic weekly allowance that is unrelated to any work they may do in the home as an expression of your parental graciousness.

Give daily tasks for which there is no remuneration. “Man shall eat his bread by the sweat of his brow,” (Gen. 3:19). A family can be compared to rowers in a boat, i.e., everyone needs to pull on their oar. Begin requiring some work contribution as early as possible.

Offer "special" jobs (wash car, polish the silver, wash the windows) to earn extra cash.

Only praise children for the effort exerted, not for how “smart” they are. Praise God, not them, for their intelligence.

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