Trying to bring up a child is a learning curve. There’s always something new you stumble across that you hadn’t foreseen. And you learn as much yourself as your child does. One thing I’ve found out is all the gaps in my own education. So here are ten things that you should definitely teach your child – none of them academic. (Although actually, some of them might still help at school).
1. Eating Healthily – Nutrition and Meal Planning
Sometime during my childhood, ready meals became popular. Instead of my mum having to prepare meals from scratch, she could take a packet out of the freezer, pop it into the oven, and a short while later: dinner! No need to plan ahead, just pick whatever you fancy from the freezer drawer.
Great news for working mums. Lousy news for kids like me, who grew up without any real idea of what was in our food or of what we need to eat. The labelling on the food packets is no substitute, even if you have the Maths degree necessary to translate the percentages into some meaningful info about whether the food is healthy. (I do, actually).
Do your kid a favour, and draw up actual meal plans with them weekly. Help them to understand what makes up a balanced diet. Every week, so it becomes second nature. A one-off lesson isn’t a substitute for learning good habits. (That goes for all the tips on this page). You could save your child years of weight loss diets and heartache.
2. Being Tidy – Tidying, Cleaning, Washing, Ironing
I’m not sure if this one is general, or just me. Having a mum who worked and tried to do the housework meant that she just cleaned up as quickly as she could around the family. I noticed myself trying to do the same thing. Unfortunately, that means I’m not letting my child get involved or learn good habits.
If you’re working and raising a family, you need to fit a lot of tasks into a small time, but don’t let your children miss out on learning the skills they’ll need when they grow up. Get them involved in helping you tidy, helping you wash up sometimes, helping you hang up washing. As they get older, make sure they do chores. One day, when they leave home, their future housemates will thank you!
3. Budgeting and Personal Finance
We all know that our child needs good maths and english ability to do well at school. But a lot of people leave school able to do maths, but paralysed with fear about managing their own finances. For years, I was one of them – and I have a maths degree!
Help your child understand how they can use maths in the real world. Teach them the other skills that they need to manage their finances. Tell them about budgets, about how costs can go up and down, about allowing for costs that are monthly, weekly, annual or termly. Let them know about the economy, about banks, pensions, insurance and financial advisors. Explain basic accounting, and show them how to use some software. Tell them about reconciling their actual outgoings against what they expected, and looking at the differences. Heck, tell them about con-men and common scams.
Is this really boring? Well, it can be. But it could save them from some very nasty shocks later in life. If you tell kids about your own experiences or relate the tasks to their lives, it could even be interesting. And don’t you want your children to be financially savvy when they grow up – if only so they’ll move out?
4. Reading – and Source Awareness
Okay, so your child’s school will teach him or her to read. If your child picks the right subjects, they might learn – in their teens – about considering the source of what they’re reading. But by then they’ll already have been exposed to thousands of ads, publicity, interviews, news articles, gossip pieces and goodness knows what else.
It’s never too soon to start gently inoculating your child’s mind by encouraging them to understand who wrote the information they’re seeing and what that person wants. Your child will develop these skills to some extent anyway, learning to understand perspective and other people’s points of view. But you can help them a lot by asking the right questions.
If you do it right, our children might even elect a decent government!
5. How To Cook
Yes, this is different from #1. Shame on you for even asking. But yes, the cause is the same – ready meals. I learned most of my cooking abilities in my 30s, having got by until then with knowing how to use a microwave or oven to heat up packets. It was only when my child was born, and I started trying to feed him a balanced diet, that I bothered to pick up the skills I needed to make a meal myself.
Why does it matter? Why not just choose a balanced diet from the meals available in the supermarket’s frozen aisle? Well, because I’m afraid it’s nearly impossible to get a balanced diet from them. Apart from the known problems of being high in salt, sugar and fat, ready meals are also often ‘padded’ with wheat flour or milk powder to make them cheaper. Decent quality meat and vegetables would cost more.
The good news is that once you’ve mastered a few basic skills, cooking is not too hard. Kids like easy food anyway. Let them help make it! My own child was so proud of making fish fingers for tea, that I didn’t even get any arguments about eating them up!
If you have several children, they’ll probably get a fair amount of practice at this. If they’re not hitting each other all the time, they’ve probably picked up negotiation skills. If you’ve got only one child, though, you’ll need to help out a bit more.
Give your child a chance to negotiate with you. You don’t have to relax discipline a lot – enforce bedtime, but leave some room to allow the ‘5 minutes more’ or ‘one more story’ without things getting completely out of control. Talk about what you both want and why, and try to find common ground. Trade off wins today against gains tomorrow. Have fun.
I have to say, I find this the trickiest skill of all – because I was brought up quite strictly to do as I was told, whereas my child is excellent at negotiating with me. I have to keep honing my own skills to keep up!
7. Anger Management
If you have serious anger management problems, you should seek professional advice to manage them – anger can be overwhelming. But even the calmest of us, faced with a red-faced, screamingly-unreasonable toddler, can discover that our anger management skills are less good than we thought. What do you do? Take a deep breath? Change the subject? Insist on getting your own way?
The “right” answer depends on the context, and different people will have different answers. But whatever you’re doing – believe me, your child will be watching and learning. Anger management is one of the skills we’re rarely taught, and we usually pick up from those around us. This is one of those times you really have to “walk the talk”.
Take a few minutes today to notice how you behave when you’re challenged – and whether you’re setting the example you hope your kids will follow. You might be surprised what you see yourself doing!
8. Being Active and Exercising
Okay, be honest. Do you like exercise? What kind? Do you play football, or just watch it on TV? Do you go to the gym? Do you enjoy it?
I was always a classic bookworm when I was younger, and I still haven’t really got into the habit of enjoying exercise. But I do know that when I do exercise regularly, I feel a whole lot better in so many ways. And I know that my child is too young to have “learned” that exercise is unpleasant, so he spends as much time as he possibly can running around, jumping, climbing and stretching.
So, as I see it, my job is simple. Don’t get in the way of my child’s natural desire to be active. Give plenty of opportunity. Don’t let the fact that I hate exercise communicate itself to him. Easy? Well – no. Hard work. But that’s what’s required.
A bit more abstract, this one. You can (and should) cover planning in some of the other points above. Like meal planning, financial planning. But planning is a generalized skill, that you can use in many ways. Try to help your child understand:
- predicting the future based on what’s happened before
- understanding how likely it is that you’ll be right/wrong – and which areas are most risky
- dependencies between different things, and how that changes what could happen
- making sensible decisions about what to do based on the most likely outcomes
- having contingency plans for when things change
- checking how things are progressing, and whether you need to change what you’re doing
- going back afterwards to see how good your plan was, and learning to do better next time
10. Making Friends
You’d think this was easy, right? But fewer people these days live in close-knit communities, or know lots of families around them. Even if you know everyone where you are now, your chances of having to move at some time are high.
If you can help your child have the confidence and skills to make friends, change friends, keep friends, and keep in touch with absent friends, you’ll be giving them a skill that will help them for their entire life. It will make them more likely to be successful, and more likely to be happy.
What more could they ask?