Many years ago, as a teenager, I visited a neighbour whose wife had recently given birth to their first child. My plan was to hand over a card and gift, say congratulations, and leave. Then I found David standing forlornly in the kitchen, clutching a frozen chicken. “Do you know what to do with this?” he asked.
Turned out, he had no idea how to cook. He’d lived at home until he got married, looked after by his mother. Then his new wife took over the job, so he’d never needed to learn. Other household skills were similarly lacking. I took off my coat and got stuck in.
Now, I accept my situation was a little different to most. My mother died when I was 12 and I had no brothers or sisters. My stepfather had a demanding, full-time job that required him to travel. Learning to run a household was just something I had to do. But even before that, while Mum was still alive, she’d taught me a thing or two.
If you want your child to hit the ground running when it comes to ‘adulting’, there are a few life skills you should teach them while they’re still at home.
1How to cook a simple meal
There’s a reason the cliché of kids living off takeaways and instant noodles when they go to university exists. Ok, it’s partly because they can’t be bothered to cook – but a surprising number don’t know how to.
They don’t need to be cordon bleu chefs, but a couple of easy pasta dishes and decent knife skills will see them through a lot. Roast dinners and stir-fries are easy. And it’s worth knowing how to rustle up a decent cooked breakfast.
I told my kids they weren’t allowed to leave home until they could make themselves at least three decent meals. My son still eats too many takeaways, but at least I know he can feed himself.
2How to iron a shirt
Once they enter the world of interviews and work, creased clothes aren’t an option. They’ll be glad one day that they know how to iron a shirt, t-shirt and a pair of trousers. My mother taught me to iron my school uniform when I was seven. No, it wasn’t perfect. And yes, I burned my fingers when I reached out without looking. But that was my fault, and I only did it once.
The rule in my own house was that everyone aged 11 and over was responsible for their own school/work wear. When you’ve got two kids and a husband each going through a fresh shirt every day, I’d say that’s fair.
3How to use the washing machine
On a related note, I’m amazed at how many kids seem to think doing laundry is a complicated process. I’ve always thought it was simple. The laundry basket is full, so put stuff in the washing machine. Add detergent and softener. Start the machine. Wait until it’s finished. Empty it and hang up the wet clothes. If there are a lot of dirty items, rinse and repeat – so to speak.
All you should really need to do is show them where the detergent goes and have a brief conversation about which programme to use for what. Maybe a chat about removing stubborn stains. Oh, and why they shouldn’t wash colours and whites together. They’ll forget that at least once, but turning all their t-shirts pink is a powerful teaching tool.
4How to budget
When I was in college, I always seemed to have enough money to buy what I needed. Mainly new music tapes and records (this was the pre-digital era!), festival tickets and cider. And yes, I left with a decidedly unhealthy overdraft.
Knowing how to budget is a skill that can’t be under-estimated. Understanding how to manage money, work out and cover expenses, save a little – all these will stand your child in good stead. A 2016 study by the Council for Economic Education in the US found only 17 states required high school students to take a personal finance course. In the UK, more schools are addressing the topic but it’s still widely neglected.
Give your kids a head start. The Mint is a good place to begin.
5How to do household chores
Vacuuming. Dusting. Separating and sorting the recycling. Cleaning the shower, bathroom and kitchen properly.
None of these is a difficult task, yet many kids grow up thinking their homes are self-cleaning. Or perhaps they believe in the Housework Fairy. (She doesn’t exist, believe me. If she did, I’d have found her by now.)
Even little children can learn to empty a waste (trash) basket or stack the dishwasher. And if you teach them the easy way to put a duvet into its cover, they’ll thank you in years to come.
6How to shop for groceries
It might seem obvious if you do it on a regular basis, but not to a newly-fledged young adult. So it makes sense to teach them how it works while they’re young.
Show them how to make a meal plan and write out a grocery list, while staying in budget. Talk about basic store-cupboard ingredients and how certain foods go together. They’ll learn a lot from coming to the supermarket with you, too, such as how to check nutritional information or work out the best deals. They should know about seasonal eating, and why the most expensive brands aren’t necessarily the best.
7How to manage their mornings
If you wake your child every day; if they get up to find a clean school uniform set out for them and a nutritious breakfast waiting downstairs, they’ll struggle to cope with the morning routine when they’re older.
I’m not suggesting you leave them entirely to their own devices from the day they start school, but time management is another skill they should learn. Teach your child how to set an alarm. Talk about how hard it is to get out of bed and ways that can help. Show them how to get what they need to get ready the night before. Let them pour their own bowl of cereal. Now and again, have mornings where they’re responsible for getting themselves up, ready for school and out of the door on time.