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Tips For Adulthood: Five Life Skills For Ten Year Olds

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. At my son’s school, they periodically teach the children what they call “life skills.”...

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

At my son’s school, they periodically teach the children what they call “life skills.”

I’m not exactly sure what they cover in that curriculum. I suspect that it may have more to do with social/emotional development. But I like the term “life skills,” as it captures something practical about what kids need to do to get on in life, as opposed to just learning facts.

When your kids are little, there are plenty of “life skills” milestones. Potty training is, of course, the first giant hurdle. Sleeping through the night on their own is another one, if you go in for that sort of thing.

But as your kids get older, they also need to acquire certain life skills. And if you’re like me, you wake up one day and realize that your ten year-old doesn’t know how to tie his shoes and you think: Yikes!

To that end, and because April in the UK this year was basically one giant, extended holiday, I decided to devote that month to helping my son master some basic life skills.

To wit, here are ten things all ten year-olds should know how to do:

1. Tie their shoes. I can’t say I’m proud of this. But I looked down one day and realized that with the advent of Velcro, my son didn’t know how to tie his shoes. This concern had actually been rummaging around in the recesses of my mind for quite some time. (And apparently, I’m not alone. More five year-olds today can operate a Smart Phone app than can tie their shoes. But it wasn’t until I took my son to his weekly soccer practice and noticed that all of the other boys were wearing lace up cleats (boots) that I realized it was time to pull the trigger. The good news? He mastered it in about 24 hours. (Seeing a friend tie his shoes without even looking down was a big incentive.) The bad news? It’s really hard to explain, especially when you’re facing your kid as it means explaining it backwards. (Here are some useful tips for how to teach this skill.)

2. Ride a bike. Once again, I know that I was way behind on this one. And my advice to anyone else wondering when the optimal time to teach a kid to ride a bike would be: earlier is better than later. I think that when they are lower to the ground the whole thing is less scary and dramatic. But now that he’s mastered this skill, he begs me to take him for bike rides. Next up? Riding our bikes to school. Can’t wait.

3. Cut with a knife and fork. This was another life skill I added to my list once I realized that I was really tired of cutting my son’s meat up for him every time we ate. I’m not sure if I’m alone on this, but I think that learning to cut properly with a knife and fork is actually pretty hard to teach. (And to learn. Lord knows I’ve seen some adults who struggle with this particular challenge.) Here are some handy tips I found on the Internet. I love #10: be patient. Not exactly my son’s fort√©. (Nor my own.) Sigh.

4. Employ Good Handwriting. Oh, how we have struggled with this one. For the longest time, my son insisted (and not entirely without reason) that in the age of computers, handwriting is totally pass√©. (Oh and by the way? Those of you who are nostalgic for the lost art of handwriting? The typewriter has gone the way of the horse and buggy as well.) But over the Easter holidays – and with the encouragement (and insistence) of his English teacher – we went back and actually re-learned cursive (joined up) from the ground up. I can’t say it was always smooth sailing. But boy, did he improve. I also realized that my own handwriting is complete rubbish. (Life skills for 45 year-olds, anyone?)

5. Get along with their siblings. Yeah, that’s more of a work in progress. I’ll let you know how it goes…


What am I missing?


Image: tying by vistavision via Flickr under a Creative Commons license




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  1. Kristin Bair O'Keeffe May 18, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    As always, great suggestions, Delia…especially the “tying shoes” tip (oh, the woes of Velcro). I’d add “answer a phone.” I think it’s a dying art…

    • admin May 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

      @kristin=-yes, answering the phone-completely forgot-good point! @patricia and @daryl-agree on cooking-it makes me really nervous, tho. (And I still can’t sew a button worth beans…) @Mara-we started the shower thing about a year ago with both kids-10 year old is completely on his own and 7 year old is getting there…that was a biggie (and a huge relief as I was really tired of baths after all those years…) thanks all for chiming in!

  2. Patricia May 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    Oh Table manners was a big thing at our house too. I remember learning that kids do what their father’s do in the world more than their mom’s – later in life they will add more mom into the mix, but as young adults their sense of etiquette ( or approach to society) is from dear ol’ Dad. My father and my husband have extraordinary ( almost irritatingly lovely table manners)

    I would add in the work in progress – how to sew on a button, in the USA how to reset the plumb ball in the toilet, ( how to mop up the floor if necessary) how to re-track a zipper, and definitely start to budget and learn about parental values and how to use money….even with some make some money ideas.

    By age 12, I think it is important for folks to understand how to cook a meal for themselves, because they are going to be doing that for a very long time in life – and even if they don’t do most of the cooking chores…knowing how it vital for a healthy life. My Mother had us memorize homemade mac and cheese and a basic sponge cake….My husband took this on…and on his last 3 week bike tour, he was able to whip up a blackberry cobbler in a small box oven on the fire pit….One never knows?

  3. daryl boylan May 19, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    As previous responder — 2 things I failed to teach at the appropriate times & 10 is a good age: (1) basic money skills, including reasonable & unreasonable pricing, safety about money, basic budgeting, etc. (2) Cooking — actually, these skills should be gradually introduced earlier. Always was remiss about this myself. I actually didn’t appreciate just how remiss until I saw some of my grandchildren at 6-8 quite capably handling basic cooking. Starting with sweets is always popular.

  4. M. del Mar Paredes May 19, 2011 at 12:48 pm #


    long since I didn’t post in your Blog. I just wanted to point some other “duties” I try/tried my kids to do/improve that I’m afraid you haven’t mention:

    Taking a shower on their own. Diego 8 years, already does…though I’m all around most of the time checking, but he doesn’t notice.

    Going to school alone. I know, I know, that can be unthinkable in the U.K. or in the U.S.A, but here even though it is not so usual as it was along my kid times, it’s a kind of must that we, parents, might encourage our kids to do, isn’t it?

    Doing their homeworks entirely by themselves with no help from parents. For me this is really crucial. I know many couples around me, who they STILL help (if not do them) with their TEENAGERS’ homework from Highschool (even with nearly 18!!). This is totally wrong as what will those teens do then at University far from their protectors or slaves?

    I would like to add that this topic you put on the table, is a consequence, I think, of overprotective parents generation we live. We are so overprotective, Delia…

  5. M. del Mar Paredes May 19, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Ohh, I forgot to comment you that like you, I maybe delayed too much time to teach my kids how to tie their shoes, but I’ve got an extra “handicap”: they’re both lefties and this implies a real effort when I am right-handed as well as my husband is. Diego hasn’t learnt it, yet, to be honest.

  6. PNWGal May 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    -In kindergarten my daughter wanted sneakers with ties on them and so we practiced tying them before school started. I also remembered my embarrassment at having to put my shoe up on the kindergarten teacher’s chair to have it tied. And I remember teaching my babysitting charge how to tie his shoes the summer before he went to kindergarten. He would always say I tied his shoes funny — I am a lefty whereas he and his mom were not.

    -I still cut my children’s meat and their pancakes and spread their jam…..this is something I remember feeling very frustrated doing as a child and so I haven’t pushed it. My daughter is 7 and my son is 4. He’s much more interested in trying, which spurs the older one to try too.

    -Biking alas….we’ve failed there. My son loves to tricycle. My daughter is quite frightened to try to ride her bike. My husband is out shopping for a bike determined that the only way his children will ride is if they go with him.

    -And for walking to school on your own. I love that idea….and even if they won’t walk alone to school. They should be able to walk to the restroom in a restaurant or a gym by themselves. Recently, running late to swim lessons, my daughter broke down in tears when I suggested I drop her at the door and then park the car. The thought of getting to the pool by herself was too much. :(

    -Homework. The kids do it themselves. As I recently heard one mom say to her son. I have already gone to fourth grade. It is your job to do the homework yourself.

    • admin May 20, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

      @PNWgal-ah yes, walking to school. completely forgot about that – it IS a huge milestone and one we are likely to begin working on next year…thx for reminding me! (Have also started letting 7 y.o. go to bathroom on her own in public places unless it’s really hectic/scary…)

  7. John Bates May 30, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    My biggest gripe (and I don’t think age ten is too early to begin to sow the seeds of this one) is the importance of etiquette with respect to responding to mobile phone text messages or emails. It drives me crazy that they don’t always take the time to respond with even a simple “Yes”, “OK” or “Thanks”.

    In retrospect, perhaps my kids didn’t have mobile phones or use email when they were ten years old but it wasn’t long after that that they started to want such things. I blame Facebook for the breakdown in traditional protocol.

    • delialloyd May 30, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

      yes @john. agree. have you checked out Jonathan Franzen’s piece on what technoloy is doing to relationships in the NYT this weekend? worth a gander. thx for dropping by…

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