Think back to the first years you were out of the house. You probably did a lot of things—scheduling appointments, going to the airport, paying bills—on your own for the first time. Give your kid a head start by having them “fly solo” with you right there.
By the time a kid is around late-elementary to middle school age, they’re old enough to grasp the basics of planning tasks, doing things in order, and paying attention to their surroundings. Yet as parents—and trust me, I’m quite guilty of this—we often still operate by just doing things on autopilot and not involving our kids.
Yet involving your kids and forcing them to figure stuff out on their own (with you there to make sure the task doesn’t get too far off course) is a perfect way to help them learn adult skills in a safe and risk-free environment. The critical part is that you need to think ahead and schedule time for them to muddle through the task at a child’s rate: They are not yet the adult you’re helping them become.
What does this scaffolded experience and scheduled time look like? Here are a few examples of how you can help your kid learn skills they’ll need in the real world (when you’re not around to hold their hand):
- Have them serve as the navigator in the car and give you directions to and from places you routinely go, like their school, the grocery store, etc. The worst time to realize you’re bad at navigating is when you’re a new and panicked driver—help them get a sense of how to do it before they’re in the driver’s seat.
- Taking a trip? Go through the planning steps with your kid, including when you’re buying the ticket, how to compare ticket prices, how to plan to get up in time to get to the airport, and even how to navigate through the airport. Don’t just drag them along for the ride, make them do the work to figure out how to check in and exactly where the gate is.
- Meal planning and grocery shopping are perfect times to practice all sorts of adult skills, like making sure you’re eating well, buying and then preparing food before it goes bad, and sticking to a budget. You can let your kids help you plan the week’s dinners and set a budget; then have them help calculate the cost of items as you shop.
Taking a little extra time to show them how to do something will help them learn how to do many of the routine tasks we do in adulthood (and take for granted). You might be surprised to find your kid loves it. They’re getting attention from their parents, but kids also often find thrilling those tasks that we, as adults, find mundane and even don’t particularly enjoy (like navigating an airport). It’s an adventure to them and a step towards their adult independence.