Parenting feels a little bit like walking through the woods at night blindfolded. There are so many directions to take, some of which can lead you to shelter or a life-sustaining stream. Others will run you straight into the wolves’ den.
There isn’t a single right way to do parenting.
There are however, important life lessons for kids to learn before they venture into the world as adults.
Life lessons are what parents are charged to pass along and should serve as a mission statement for every mundane parenting choice we make.
In this post, I hope to emphasize some of the vital life lessons for our kids to grasp while they are under our roof.
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To be honest, I thought I had this $h!t in the bag.
It wasn’t long until I realized there is a lot more to parenting besides which boob starts my son’s meal.
Yes, soon I was navigating how to treat my toddler with respect while he hit me in the face, choosing the right preschool so he could socialize properly, and attempting to instill a few manners into my busy boy.
I am just getting started on this journey.
I am not a child psychologist or a mom of 5 that has hindsight to be an authority on this important topic. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you hit the back button right about now.
The only thing that gives me some credibility on the topic of life lessons is I am a person who has failed and started over again countless times. I have a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t in a plethora of life circumstances.
Without getting too much into my backstory (because let’s face it, we need a whole ‘nother post and a bottle of wine for that) I was a troubled teen. At age 13 I tried a handful of illegal drugs and ran away from home, which bought me a one way ticket to a boarding school in Mexico. Yup.
As a young adult I was a perpetual quitter and I developed an unhealthy habit of second guessing of myself.
It has taken me years to overcome my inner voices enough to be able to find the confidence to make decisions on my own.
I have 32 years of experience on this earth. I’ve lived in 3 countries and 6 states. I’ve held a total of 9 different jobs and have been married to 1 man who is the love of my life.
If there is anything in life I refuse to fail at, it’s parenting my children.
More than ever I want to teach my children how to navigate this life with street smarts, humility, altruism, and a fierce propensity to go after what they want.
How do I intend to do this?
By writing down a list of life lessons that I hope they extrapolate from their time under my roof. As I navigate through my parenting journey, I will come back to this list, recenter, and make sure I am staying true to my intentions.
I would not be surprised if this post gets updated throughout the years, but for now this is the page on the internet where my wisdom lives.
13 Important Life Lessons for Kids
1. Respectful communication
Communication is the front door to our relationships. It is how we convey our intentions, become successful in our careers, and build lifelong friendships.
There are going to be times in life when our children won’t see eye to eye on certain topics with the people in their circle. An important life lesson is to learn how to communicate respectfully, even during a disagreement.
This begins at home with how we communicate during our own disagreements. It starts with the way we correct our children’s poor behavior.
Should we chose to yell or talk to our children with respect like we would an adult.
Putting this into practice takes mindfulness and intention so we can blow off our own emotions and confidently explain our rationale behind the rule that is being opposed.
2. Delayed gratification
The current climate of our society is one click buy now. We see what others have on social media and think we need it too. And right now. Right away.
We need to continuously lift the veil of deception from our children’s eyes by reiterating that success in any aspect of life takes years of trial and error, hard work, and tenacity.
An important skill for children to learn, is how to stay motivated to do something now that won’t produce the results for a while. Like saving 10% of allowance in a piggy bank for years. Or totally sucking at a musical instrument for years before they become the next Lynyrd Skynyrd. (hey a mom can dream right?)
We must teach our children how to work well in groups. This skill will serve them throughout life. They must learn how to accept others’ weaknesses and play off their strengths.
Most importantly, children should understand that to be successful while working in a team, they need to put the wellbeing of the group over their personal wellbeing. This can take some serious grit.
One great way to provide opportunities to learn this skill is to sign children up for group activities like team sports, mathletes, or scouts as early as possible.
4. Problems solving
Problems are the name of life’s game. Can I get an amen?
Sometimes so many problems come at us at once and we don’t know where to start. In order to teach our children how to SOLVE problems we need to involve them in OUR problems.
I am not suggesting we worry our children to death about every trivial thing like taxes. Gosh no, we sure need to protect the sanctity of childhood because it passes quickly and they will never get it back!
But children should have a healthy, balanced awareness of life’s little nuances that can be tricky to manage. As they watch us work through our own decision process while handling problems, they will gain experience and critical thinking skills.
5. How to Read Nutrition labels
It takes forever to walk through the supermarket these days and it shouldn’t. There should NOT be THIS many options for food.
These days company use all the right words.
“No antibiotics ever”
Yes, these words seems to paint a picture of healthy. But there is so much more to understand about food and eating for a lifetime of health.
Our children need to learn how to avoid the chemical ingredients added to processed foods. They need to understand how to recognize dyes, preservatives, and even a little bit on how to correctly portion macros.
I challenge every single parent to not let their children go to college without a basic knowledge of food and nutrition.
Yes, they will probably still live off fast food and pizza for a while on their own. But there will be a day when they will wake up, remember all your instruction from childhood, and make their way back to their roots.
6. Understand how money works
Our kids cannot leave our home without a clear understanding how money works. We don’t spend ALL this money and energy raising kids to watch them become crushed by crippling debt the second we turn them loose!
I guarantee the moment our kids turn 18 they will have at least 3 credit card applications a week showing up in their mailbox.
This training starts with simply talking to them about money. We need to stop making that such a cliche, sheltered topic.
We don’t have to explain Roth conversion ladders or the compounding interest curve right away (although I would challenge you to actually explain these concepts at some point). But our children need do need to comprehend how our money system is set up.
Savings accounts, mortgages, credit cards, personal loans, investment options, how to pay back what they owe, how to avoid borrowing too much.
These lessons can and will save them from doggy paddling through life. There is no way our children will be able to reach the top of the pyramid if they are drowning in debt from not understanding how to manage money.
7. Time management
Probably one of the most important aspects of life management is how we handle our time. It is, after all our most finite, precious resource. There are so many distractions these days that steal the minutes and hours from our day.
We must try to educate our kids on some of the tools we have to well manage our time. Some of these include planners, calendars, to-do lists, reminder alarms, getting off social media, and implementing daily routines.
8. How to clean and do laundry
I would honestly be embarrassed if my child left our home without these skills. I think the first steps in teaching our kids how to clean and do laundry is to simply be an example.
Kids that grow up in a clean home have that type of environment as their norm. It is a lot harder to stray from cleanliness as an adult if you grew up in a tidy environment.
At some point it will be time to show our kids how to work the washing machine and how to clean baseboards and a toilet.
We have to let go of our perfectionism and allow our kids to practice doing chores. Even if this means there are some missed spots or the clothes are shrunk two sizes too small.
My mom always took the time to check my work and point out the areas where I could have done better. This was excellent feedback and helped me become an exceptional cleaner.
9. Cope with Failure
Unfortunately failure is a part of being an imperfect human. We tend to fail and fail in order to finally get it right in soooo many categories of life.
If we allow our failures to mentally defeat us then we will never get to taste the sweet flavor of success.
This lesson is a hard one to teach but I think we can start by letting our children do more things on their own at an earlier age.
Yes, we want to protect our kids. But if we do everything for them then they won’t fail when we are around. We NEED to be there for their failures to coach them and build their confidence back up.
10. Be a self starter
No one else in the world cares more about our dreams than we do personally. I had to learn this the hard way.
Sure our parents will encourage us until the day they die. To be honest, I know I wouldn’t have made it through the rigor of nursing school without my mom being my personal cheerleader.
But at some point I left her house and my destiny was up to me. I think one way for kids to learn to be self starters is to allow them to take the lead in important family matters.
Maybe you could take a year and homeschool to allow your children to pick their subjects. Maybe they could plan the yearly family vacation.
We want them to experience the process of wanting something and then following through with the steps to get the ball rolling. They must do this all on their own without us telling them what to do each step.
11. Think for yourself
If there is one life skill that trumps all the rest, it would be how to think for yourself. We have to help our children have the confidence to do this.
This is how they will overcome peer pressure during their teen and college years. It’s how they will grow up to become innovators, creators, and CEOs of their own company one day.
I think this process starts by parents not fitting their kids into too many societal molds. Your child does NOT have to do what all the other kids are doing. They honestly don’t even need to follow all the regular rules.
Remember the movie Big Daddy with Adam Sandler? He allowed Jullian to name himself “Frankenstein” and pick out his own clothes for the day. I thought that was genius. Eventually Jullian decided to dress himself properly all on his own.
I can’t think of a better way for a child to trust their inner voice than for us to accept the weird and wacky decisions they make as children. We must enthusiastically support them completely (for reasonable things obviously).
I would even go as far to say we should raise our children to question authority. In a healthy way of course. But the important thing is that kids learn how to look beyond face value so they can decide if this is good option for their life.
12. Take responsibility for your actions
It takes a lot of humility to omit when you are wrong. Once again I think the best way to teach this is to set the example. If you disappoint your child, omit it. Talk to them about how you went wrong and what you plan to do better in the future.
I think this is a hard concept for a parent to teach. Honestly I think friends do a better job of bringing this point home but either way, it is an important life lesson to learn.
13. Give to others
Charity is one of the biggest blessings in life. We must give our children the opportunity to feel the joy of giving. To be a light for someone else, to put a smile on a frowning face, and especially to give up our excess to someone in need.
There are so many ways to teach this lesson starting with sharing toys with siblings all the way to donating entire allowances to a just cause.
I look forward to sharing experiences with my son which center around giving. I hope he always looks at another human being as much more important than any materialistic item.
One way I plan to instill this lesson is to continue in a minimalistic lifestyle. I am no means an expert at this but we have begun the process of getting rid of excess and being more mindful of the items we bring into our home.
With less things to manage, we will have more energy to devote towards giving to others. I hope that my son meets friends at charitable events so he can find meaning in these experiences.
These 13 suggestions are some of the more important life lessons for kids to take away from their childhood. It is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a great place to start.
Getting great grades at school or excelling in extracurricular activities is not what makes successful adults. The moment we stop caring about achievement awards or what college our child gets acceptance to, the sooner we can start the real work of molding a human being that will truly excel in the game of life.
This isn’t about being the perfect parent who raises the perfect kid. There will be times when we yell or are just too plain tired to go through the motions.
I hope these words can be something you too will tuck away for another time or perhaps even develop your own list of life lessons you want to instill.
To raise self-sufficient, confident, and kind humans is the greatest legacy we can leave behind.
I will leave you with this quote as you continue on your messy, beautiful journey of parenthood…
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.