The irresponsible teenage boy has become a caricature of modern adolescence: He can’t find his schoolbooks to do his homework. He regularly runs out of clean underwear. He has to borrow money from Dad to go to the mall. “Cooking” consists of operating a microwave oven. Teen girls often do not fare much better. These young people are at the age when they will soon launch into the real world, but have they been equipped to handle it?
Imagine your child at her first job or in her first apartment. What skills do you want her to bring to these settings? Do you want her to understand how to interact with others? How to manage her time, money and belongings? Maybe you want her to figure out a few basic skills like doing her own laundry.
Interactions with others
Chances are excellent that your son or daughter will someday land a job, get married and encounter various conflicts and disagreements. Can your child handle that tension? He’ll be better equipped if he’s had to deal with and resolve conflict in his formative years.
Sibling interactions are great practice for the inevitable conflicts in marriage and employment. Quarrels are a part of family life. Learning to disagree while maintaining self-control and respect for the other party may take years, but it’s worth the effort.
During one season, my children were particularly brutal to one another. Without disclosing the reason, I had them trace their bodies on large sheets of paper, and I hung them up. Each time they hurt their sibling, they had to go to that child’s tracing and tear off a piece of the drawing. This had a great impact on teaching them not to tear one another down.
Consider tracking how your family spends time over a typical week to give you perspective on all the little time wasters that are not productive or beneficial. Too much television or shopping could signal neglect in relationships.
You may also introduce your toddler to time sequences: morning, noon, evening. Today, tomorrow, yesterday. Cut out or draw pictures to make a visual timeline of his daily routine.
As your child matures, he should have his own alarm clock. This shifts responsibility to your child, and the morning battle becomes between child and the clock and not between child and Mom and Dad.
Encourage your child to stay organized with schoolwork. Your child may be noting daily responsibilities in a planner, especially if her school encourages students to track homework assignments and long-term projects. Make sure she’s also turning in her assignments on time and that she stays on task while searching the Web for class projects.
From time to time, compare the pace at which your child operates with the pace required for her daily commitments. If your child is feeling rushed, find ways to alleviate stress through family time and adequate rest. Your child’s time-management skills will be a cardinal asset as he enters adulthood and the workforce.
When our kids were still young, we allowed them to make financial decisions. They were able to learn and make mistakes with small sums and small stakes. Our kids had to agree on how and when to spend the money. If there were conditions to that privilege, we spelled them out. For example, we set a weekly budget for treats. When the money was spent, it was gone for the week.
Set goals for long-term savings, such as paying for summer camp, and shorter-term savings goals for things they want in the near future, such as a new toy.
Provide a way for them to divide their earnings or allowance into different categories. For example, their tithe could be 10 percent, long-term savings could be 30 percent, short-term savings 30 percent and everyday spending 30 percent. Try using jars, paper envelopes or plastic zipper bags to separate each category. This has the advantage of kids being able to see the money as it accumulates.
Organizing and decluttering
Having kids means having stuff — lots of stuff. Both parents and children need to be “stuff-savvy” to keep their possessions organized.
Keep clutter at bay by involving your children in paring down belongings and donating long-forgotten toys. Work together to sort and store items, disposing of any broken or damaged toys. Consider creating a “memory box” for each child to store treasured pieces of artwork. The box could also serve as the repository for cards, letters and other mementos.
Repair and maintenance
Once your children have proven they can take care of their belongings, they can help with the big things that require regular maintenance. Include your children in everyday household and vehicle upkeep, preparing them to be more self-reliant.
Each of our kids has enjoyed trips to the hardware store holding Dad’s strong hand. Because my husband and I quickly discovered that we possess few repair skills between the two of us, we’ve learned the following lessons about home ownership:
Have a sense of humor. Something always breaks. Cleaning three inches of water out of the basement might not be your choice for the day, but it can be an opportunity to teach teamwork
Be willing to learn. When your children see you try something new, like how to apply caulk, they learn that it’s possible to acquire new skills, even if those abilities aren’t in their area of strength.
Be willing to ask for help. If a home project is over your head, you can teach your children a valuable lesson by simply asking for help and then working together to accomplish the task.
Beyond home repairs, remember that basic tasks such as mowing the lawn or weeding the garden can be great learning experiences for your kids.
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