When it comes raising kids, sometimes it seems like the best goal is just minimizing the amount of counseling they will need later, right? If you step back and consider the role of parenting, though, isn’t it ultimately to raise a critically thinking, socially intelligent adult with the necessary skills to stand on their own without being a burden to others and to perhaps even contribute to society?
There are no easy answers for how to do this but here are 5 life skills every young adult must have when they leave the nest in order to be successful. Have you taught them to your kid?
#1 – Money Smarts
What do your kids know about personal finance? Before kids even graduate, they’re typically working part-time jobs, buying cars, and applying to college – and taking on massive student debt. Whether or not they go to college, they have to juggle how to manage their finances against a raft of needs and wants in order to support themselves, their future families, and plan for life goals such as buying a house, throwing a wedding, affording children, taking vacations and saving for retirement.
Financial decisions never stop coming in life. Taking on big debt early and not knowing how to manage income against expenses, use credit responsibly, file taxes, organize and keep financial records, let alone how to become financially savvy with smart investing and the ability to negotiate a salary, is a recipe for stress and money problems throughout life.
Whatever your kid decides to do with their careers, they face big financial decisions early on. Use every opportunity to educate them on personal finance. Use their finances and yours as teaching tools. Don’t buy their car, sign their loans, open their savings without them being part of the process. Similarly, don’t be afraid of showing them how you manage your money. Produce and explain every part of your paystub, show them how you schedule and make bill payments, walk through tax filings with them (especially theirs if they have a part-time job), and show them how interest works on credit cards, student loans, and mortgages using your records as examples. Explain everything until they can explain it back to you coherently. You don’t have to do this all at once or go full accountant on them but exposure is key.
Most Americans don’t have a budget and live paycheck to paycheck. Don’t prime your kid to be part of this group. Set them up for success by making money a conversational topic, even at the dinner table. Give them the tools and know-how to be in the group that uses money wisely to build wealth, not debt.
#2 – Food Smarts
Health is our biggest asset. Ill-health comes with financial burdens, lost opportunities for work and advancement, and can seriously ruin our everyday enjoyment of life. Most modern-day illnesses and diseases seem linked to our diets – diabetes, cardiovascular disease, many cancers, strokes, and kidney disease are just the worst offenders. Food impacts not just our physical health but also our sleep, moods and cognitive abilities.
Unfortunately, 66% of the standard American diet is processed food and 68.6% of Americans are overweight and obese. With that comes dire health consequences. The CDC reports that 100 million adult Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes, a condition that if not treated often leads to type 2 diabetes within five years. To put this in perspective, the U.S. population is around 325 million. That’s a horrible statistic, almost 1 in 3 people of all adults, and that’s just diabetes statistics.
We are literally what we eat. Give your child the best nutritional education you can. Watch films like Food Inc. together, talk about the differences between a whole foods diet and a processed foods diet and the consequences of them. In the grocery store, teach them how to read labels and ingredient lists and importantly, teach them how to prepare delicious, wholesome meals. Make cooking social and fun. If they don’t learn how to cook and enjoy good food when they’re in the house, chances are they’ll just eat junk when they move out.
Put your kid in the kitchen and educate them on the food in the stores, restaurants and elsewhere. Teach them what processed foods are. These are heat-to-serve, ready-to-eat meals, fast food, meal kits, boxed and packaged foods but also include refined carbs like sugar, pasta and breads. The later aren’t even on most people’s radar as processed foods but they are and should be eaten infrequently or in small servings.
For the best health and vitality, teach your child to enjoy whole foods for the majority of their meals – fruits and vegetables, legumes and pulses, seeds and nuts. They don’t have to be vegetarian to reap health rewards either. Eating smart will provide them energy, fuel their brains and bodies, and help innoculate them against an ever-growing host of modern illnesses and diseases.
#3 – Manners
Your child may be the smartest person on the planet but unless they know how to navigate the social world, their skills, gifts and abilities will get lost in the shuffle. Ever notice that it’s the socially savvy people who get ahead, not necessarily the smartest or kindest? Success in any avenue of life requires more than talent. It requires interpersonal skills and social intelligence.
Manners are essential to interpersonal skills. These are not just the pleases and thank yous, the holding open doors for others or being kind to restaurant staff. Manners are knowing how to respond in social situations, including how to interact with colleagues and acquaintances with consideration and tact. Many a job prospect or promotion has been lost due to a lack of tact or ability to read social nuances.
Kids must also learn to interact with a variety of people in a variety of situations. The adult world has office politics and workplaces with diversity across sex, sexual orientation, age, race, religion and political views – just to name a few. In the adult world, people have problems – financial, emotional, health, etc. Manners help us respond to others in appropriate ways but also helps us to politely disentangle or keep ourselves free from their problems.
Manners encompass a host of areas but teaches interpersonal skills and effective communication. Success goes to those who know not just how to write coherent emails and resumes or interview well for a job, but how to build relationships in the business world and community, gain and keep clients or friends, sign deals, and win support for their ideas. Successful people know how to give and receive criticism and praise. They know how to treat others, be they family, friends, colleagues, subordinates, bosses or complete strangers. Your kid shouldn’t be a pushover, but they should know manners – especially ones the ones needed in today’s adult world.
#4 – Mind Training
Life is a mental game. How we see situations – as good or bad, hassle or fun – depends a lot on our perspective. Two people in the same rain shower can have vastly different experiences – one of enjoyment and the other of misery. Life is nothing but experiences and challenges. How your kid mentally responds impacts their emotional responses and vice verses. That in turn impacts their behaviors and enjoyment of life – from explosions of temper or increased levels of depression to happiness and peace. If we can’t control ourselves, we often sabotage our relationships and career goals. If our inner world is negative and in disarray, our outer world will appear the same way. Yet despite this, we rarely train our minds.
Are you teaching your child how to handle their thoughts and emotions? Even successful CEOs study this skill, usually through mindfulness and meditation practice. They know a calm, productive mind yields benefits not just in peace and happiness but in their bank accounts. Training the mind to notice thoughts, emotions and feelings brings increased levels of concentration, self-control, and happiness.
Most parents say they want their kids to be happy but think this will come from external sources like a job, a spouse, a certain salary or fame. Real happiness, though, comes from within. And guess what? It’s teachable. Studies show that just eight weeks of mindfulness training is enough to cause significant changes in the brain associated with increased happiness. Teach your kid how to master their mental game. They’ll reap improved focus and concentration, self-mastery, calm, mental clarity, as well increased compassion, peace, joy and yes, happiness.
#5 – A Love of Lifelong Learning
The world never stops changing. New challenges arise day after day. The successful and happy are those who know this, have the skills and flexibility to meet new problems, and love learning. Anyone who can’t problem solve probably doesn’t like learning and is at a competitive disadvantage to those who do.
Learning isn’t about earning degrees or taking classes. In any list of habits of successful people you’ll often see reading, particularly among CEOs. They love to read broadly but they also learn with purpose to bolster skills and move toward their goals. In the same way, performers and entertainers also study their craft and profession, the competition and new trends. Successful people research the past and experiment with the new. Because of this constant learning, they’re able to adapt and innovate more quickly than those who just clock in and out at work.
Remember the saying that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it? That speaks to learning and can be adapted to most areas of life – whether professional, personal or financial. Instill a love of learning and curiosity in your child. Read with them but make sure you’re investigating non-fiction works too. Watch scientific and cultural programs and videos with them. Teach them to problem solve by looking for answers and solutions themselves rather than always relying on others. In the adult world, problem solvers and self-motivators are key assets. That and we all need to problem solve the challenges of life. Start early in training this skill in your child.
School Doesn’t Teach Life Skills
Whether you loved school or hated it, you probably learned few life skills other than general socialization, some teamwork and the ability to read, write and do some math. Schooling and college teaches facts and figures, not skills like how to make big financial decisions, negotiate a salary, respond to a death in someone’s family, control your anger and increase your joy in the moment, or critically parse news and information. Parents have to teach these things.
Want your child to have a great head on their shoulders and graduate from high school armed with their best chance at success? Teach them skills that will impact almost every aspect of their lives – personal finance, smart eating habits, manners, mindfulness and a love of lifelong learning. These five skills alone will bolster them more than anything else and make them able to stand on their own and stand out from the crowd.
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