So, early in the day, I read the very encouraging article from Raising Homemakers.
This afternoon, my nearly-complimentary subscription to Woman’s Day arrived. (Hey, it was $1 for a year. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. You know you read it in the checkout lane, too.) The August issue has an article on teaching children life skills also, but it’s a little bit different from the Raising Homemakers post.
Go read it for yourself. Warning: you may want to do a bit of prophylactic duct taping around your skull, because it might just explode a little.
My ever-so-slightly snarky take on it:
Waiting until your children are in high school to learn these sorts of basic life skills? Way to stunt their development.
You have four years to help your teens learn to take care of themselves, so come up with a list of life skills you want to pass on…
Carl Pickhardt, “expert”
The section on cleaning includes such gems as:
… introduce your teens to the broom, dustpan, mop, and toilet bowl brush. Their weekly chores should involve each one. Reveal the wonders of weekly trash pickup too by making it their job to take out the garbage.
Do so many millions really misunderstand the concept of functional minions… erm, well-trained children?
Their list of things to start teaching a high schooler are well-recognized by my five year old, and Spicy is pretty darn handy with the vacuum, too, now that she’s tall enough to read the handle. I cannot imagine not involving my children in the care and keeping of our home from their earliest days. Trying to do remedial training with the 14 to 18 crowd is going to go over like a lead balloon; why on earth should they want to do things differently from the established pattern of Child=Master, Mom=Slave? But, the article goes on to recommend, we ought to close our eyes to their messy room, because we want to leave those lines of communication open.
I’m actually more concerned that my children learn to keep a hygienic environment, and demonstrate respect for their material blessings, thanks. We’ll chat when they’re done tidying their own things. Heck, I might even go visit with my kids while they work… I read to Lefty and Spicy while they de-clutter their toys, after all. (No mention in this article about training our late teens to handle their own belongings, just to do the very basics that keep everyone from dying of salmonella and bed bug bites. Nice.)
Car maintenance: now, admittedly, this is not an area where either I or my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal Fellow have a great deal of natural affinity. Since Eldest and The Boy seem to have a knack for mechanics, we’re perfectly okay with letting them check tire pressure, oil & fluids, refill things… and they’ve been doing so since about the age of ten. In the case of tire pressure, The Boy discovered the wonders that are “teeny little air gauges” when he was about six. There’s no holding back a gadget head, I tell you.
Find a way to get your teens and their dirty clothes into the laundry room (if you have to bribe them with a movie, so be it.)
Here’s my method: when a child is two, let them toss dirty clothes in a basket, and attempt to fold the washcloths.
When a child is three, turn over all washcloth and hand-towel folding to them, let them put items in the dryer as you hand them from the washer, and let them help sort clothes into “person piles.”
When a child is four, let them help match socks, pull clothes from the dryer, and sort dirty clothes by color. If you have a clothesline, let them be in charge of handing pins to you, and putting them back in the pin bag as you pull things down.
When a child is five, teach them how to fold shirts and pants, and how to organize a drawer. Six? How to use a stain stick.
As soon as they can reach the controls (between 7 and 10 usually, or else, buy a step stool!), let them use the machines. Show them a few times, then supervise a few times, then turn ’em loose.
I now have kids at nearly-14 and 11. They’re still a bit messy with dribbling laundry liquid down the side of the machine (another mentoring session on “How To Rinse The Measuring Cup As The Machine Fills” seems to be in order), but they are 100% fully functional with doing the entire family’s laundry, start to finish,without ruining things and including folding and putting away.
I’m a big fan of doing family laundry, not just personal laundry. Home chores are to benefit the whole family. Using one’s skills in this way is a lesson in service, and it’s another tiny way to keep a teenager more connected to family and needs larger than their own. Let’s face it: those teen years involve a lot of introspection and self-centeredness; anything that pulls us out of our own heads is a good thing. A little family service is grand.
How do I get them to the laundry machines? I say, “Eldest, will you start a load for me?” and off she trots to accomplish it every bit as well as I can. Or, “My Boy, will you cycle things through, please?” and he leaves off his Legos for the five minutes it takes… often wheedling assistance from his own faithful minion… erm, little sister… by promising that Spicy can turn the dial or push the buttons. Little kids like to help. Training them during their natural developmental stages is quite easy, and by the time the stage passes, they’re used to helping.
Handling this kind of responsibility gives teens a greater sense of competency, and that’s the real goal.
Yeah… it works for a 5-year-old, too. Waiting til 14 to teach a child to be competent is rather too late, I’m thinking. Going into the teens years with a big fat store of self-respect and competency is a better goal.
The article also counsels having teens learn to set their own health care and other appointments. I’d say that’s an age-appropriate skill to have… though by the time I was 14, my voice sounded just like my mother’s, and I’d been calling to cancel my own dental appointments for a full two years.
Cooking? Again, the article assumes that young children cannot possibly handle the rigors of cooking and baking skills until they’re nearly ready to launch. Bollocks. Children are quite capable of sandwiches by the age of four, and it goes pretty quickly from there. By 14, a person ought to be able to make up a menu, stick to a grocery budget, and prepare a range of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that didn’t come from cans or boxes or fast-food restaurants.
The most disheartening thing in the article was a small break-out box listing the various colleges and universities–yes, colleges and universities–that offer classes (in some cases, mandatory classes) on such esoteric topics as “How to Clean Your Room,” laundry, using public transportation, financial literacy, budgeting, time management, and other things their parents ought to have taught them well before sending them out of the nest.
I’m feeling a bit ranty about the whole thing. And just a tiny bit stabby.
And now I’m going to go hug all my minions… erm, competent children. The Eldest just leaned around the corner to tell me dinner is ready.