The Skills Children Need: How to Help Kids Thrive Into AdulthoodNov 28, 2023 06:30AM ● By Jennifer Zethner, RN, MS, CPNP
Skills learned at a young age are pivotal in shaping the development of children. As parents, educators and caregivers, we want them to develop into well-rounded, successful adults. Beyond academic knowledge, there are essential character and life skills that they need to master to help them grow into responsible, empathetic and resilient individuals.
Fostering Skill Development
“Character skills should be intentionally taught and reinforced throughout a child's educational journey,” says Ronald Bubnowski, an elementary school principal and Boy Scouts of America leader in New Jersey. “When we teach kids character skills, we are investing in the future generation of change-makers and leaders who will make this world a better place.” Character skills contribute to moral and ethical growth and help equip children to face the challenges of the world with confidence and integrity.
Life skills are acquired gradually, starting from a very young age. As soon as children start interacting with their environment, they begin to develop fundamental skills. According to Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist and founder of Aha! Parenting, “Children are never too young to learn life skills.” For example, when a comforting parent tends to a crying baby, the baby learns to trust the people in their world and that they are worthy of being cared for. This is a building block for self-confidence.
Life skills are not a one-size-fits-all concept. The skills that are most important for children to learn differ depending on their age and stage of development. When they are around 6 to 12 months old, a child can roll, sit, pull up to stand, crawl, vocalize, suck their fingers or pacifier, and hold and study a toy. This is an appropriate time to allow a child to learn how to self-regulate, an important skill for all ages. A good place to practice is during naps and at bedtime. Don’t be surprised that a child lets out only a few cries and then soothes themselves to sleep.
Teaching toddlers life skills is about role modeling; they learn by example. Some key life skills to teach during these years include feeding oneself, brushing teeth, following directions, washing hands, using the bathroom independently, manners and communicating needs and feelings.
By age 3, children start to socialize and make attempts to please others. Most skills acquired at this age come from socializing with other kids their age, whether that’s with siblings, at day care, nursery school, mommy-and-me groups or at the park. They should develop empathy and cooperation. As they begin to explore the world around them unassisted, it is essential to focus on developing basic skills that allow them to feel independent and capable. Some key life skills to teach children during early childhood include tying their shoelaces, dressing themselves, cleaning up their toys and managing simple conflicts with siblings.
As children move through elementary school, character development expands as part of the development of their identity. They learn more complex skills, such as time management, decision making, the importance of respecting others’ opinions and peaceful conflict resolution.
Creating a Learning Environment
Teaching life and character skills to children requires a multifaceted approach involving guidance, practice and positive reinforcement. It is crucial to create a supportive environment that encourages them to explore and learn through hands-on experiences. Here are some effective strategies:
- Challenge a child at every age. They are growing fast and what they couldn’t do today they may be ready to do tomorrow.
- Lead by example. Children learn best by observing the behaviors and actions of adults around them.
- Provide opportunities for practice. Create tasks or chores that allow them to apply the skills they learn to reinforce their understanding and build confidence.
- Use storytelling and play. Engaging children in storytelling and play activities can make the process of learning life and character skills more enjoyable and memorable. Through storytelling, children can learn valuable lessons and understand the importance of various skills in different situations.
- Encourage independence and problem-solving. Allowing children to make decisions and solve problems on their own fosters independence and critical thinking. By providing guidance and support, adults can empower children to become more self-reliant. “Giving children a safe and supportive environment in which to fail and learn is part of the process, too,” says Bubnowski.
Visit HealthyChildren.org from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as Tinyurl.com/LearnTheSignsActEarly from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control for tools and tips at every stage of a child’s development.
Jennifer Zethner is a certified pediatric nurse practitioner and founder of Simply Pediatrics in Northport, New York.