Inside: Middle school is the perfect time to start teaching your tween or young teen the life skills they will need to succeed in high school and as adults.
If there is any season of life that brings stress and anxiety to parents and kids alike, it’s these awkward in-between years.
Few of us look back on this time of our life with great affection. Braces, acne, bad fashion choices. You remember I’m sure. Unless, of course, you’ve blocked it out.
As we watch our kids go through this phase, it can be painful. Sometimes we wonder if they (and we) will survive, let alone thrive.
Part of helping them grow into the confident and capable young adults we know they can be is making sure they have the skills that are not only necessary to do well in school, but in life.
That’s where Life Skills come into play.
The term ‘Life Skills’ refers to the skills you need to take care of yourself and make the most out of life. And it’s never too early to start helping your child develop these skills.
Middle school is a great time to start as your adolescent starts to crave more independence and responsibility.
Technology is already a huge part of your child’s life and teaching our kids to use technology appropriately is our responsibility. Chances are, your son or daughter doesn’t need lessons in how their phone or tablet operates but they do need boundaries and safety instruction. You’d never hand the keys of a really expensive sports car to a 12 year old, but there’s just as much danger in handing over unmonitored access to technology.
As our kids enter into the tween and teen years, freedom of access to technology usually comes through cell phones. So, the first, and most important thing you need to ask yourself is if your child is ready for a cell phone. Some kids in middle school really aren’t ready yet and don’t feel pressured to give them one just because “everybody has one.”
If you do decide to allow your tween to have a cell phone, have your child sign a cell phone contract. We have a printable that covers the basics for you in our post Cell Phone Rules for Tweens and Teens. This sets expectations and shifts responsibility from you to them. It’s an important step in developing accountability.
Lastly, while some children are given access to social media in middle school, most social networks require or suggest a child be a minimum of 13 years old before joining. If you allow them an account before this age, think about the message you are sending them when it comes to following rules and lying to gain access to the platforms. Also, don’t forget how hard middle school is without social media and how fragile their self-esteem is during these years. It’s okay to wait on both a cell phone and social media.
In our home, we have a tradition that when one of our kids starts middle school, they get their very own laundry basket. YEAH! Up until this point, they’ve had to help with doing laundry, such as folding and putting it away, but now they take on total ownership start to finish.
This means if they have a practice or game coming up, they need to keep track of whether or not they’ve got a clean uniform and, if not, time to do some laundry. Also, mine wear uniforms to school too, so they have to stay on top of making sure they’ve got the proper clothes ready for each day.
Now, I don’t throw them to the wolves. I walk through the laundry operations a few times with them and we’ve got a great printable that we’ve hung in our laundry room to help them in case they forget a few steps.
Making Bed/Changing Sheets
I’ve heard from more than one parent that their Freshman college student doesn’t know how wash their dorm bed sheets, much less how often. Oh, and then actually making the bed afterward is a whole other story. Middle school is a great time to start this skill, so it’s pretty much a done deal by college.
Now that they’ve learned to do their own laundry, sheets can absolutely be a part of this new chore. General having them wash their sheets every two weeks is okay, but you may feel that more often is better. It’s up to each family’s way of doing things. However, make sure they know that if they’re sick, bedding should be washed as soon as they’ve recovered to prevent germs from spreading or re-infection.
Help them with the basics of making their bed the first few times and don’t get all hung up on how well they do it. You may also discover they completely abandon the idea of a top sheet, which apparently is whole thing with this generation.
Does it really matter? As long as it gets done, this is not a battle worth fighting.
Waking Up On Their Own
You’re probably in the habit of waking your kids up in the morning for school, but learning to wake up on one’s own is a definite skill. This is especially true if you’re not raising a morning person. The day will come when you won’t be there to make sure they’re not snoozing through their morning math class or late for work.
This is why figuring out what time they need to get out of bed so they can get ready and leave at a designated time is a good life lesson to start by middle school. It also helps them to realize the importance of sleep and how much easier it is to get going in the morning when you’ve gotten enough z’s. Tweens really need about 9 hours each night to be fully rested.
Resist the temptation to save them from the consequences of not getting them up on their own. If they sleep through their alarm it could simply mean having to go to school without their hair done or having to miss breakfast or it might mean being tardy and a detention. Either way, it drives home the importance of being on time and will help them develop their internal motivation to mastering this skill.
If you need a little help moving the process along, here is a unique alarm clock, perfect for the tween or teen in your life.
You’re probably so in the habit of doing this that it may not have occurred to you to teach this, but there’s no time like the present! This simple task is perfect for your tween and gives you a few minutes to jam out to your favorite songs while he or she deals with the gas pump.
It’s also a quickie personal finance lesson. There is a good chance your kid has no idea how much gas costs or how often you need to fill up. As they are getting ever closer to the day when they will be behind the wheel of a car, making them aware of these details is a good starting point.
Keeping a Calendar
Time management starts here. Taking responsibility for what time practices/games start, social events, appointments, or school project deadlines are life skills he’ll need to be a successful adult. You can have them start on an old-school wall calendar or use a planner.
Here is a basic planner that is perfect for tweens:
Many families keep track of activities and such on a phone app. If this is the case, then make your tween responsible for entering their things in the app promptly. If they don’t have their own phone, you might be able to put it on the family computer or allow them to use your phone for this purpose.
Cooking A Simple Meal
Breakfast and snacks are a great place to begin teaching tweens basic cooking skills. Whether frying eggs or an after-school grilled cheese, using the stove helps him or her work up to more involved cooking. Spaghetti, mac & cheese, and browning ground beef are reasonable next steps. You can also introduce boxed brownies or cakes to learn the ropes of following a recipe, measuring, and general baking skills.
Stay as hands-off during this time as possible, and if needed, leave the kitchen so you can resist the urge to step in. Remember, basic cooking is a lifelong requirement, and who knows> it may spark an interest in more advanced culinary skills. And don’t forget to let them know they’re responsible for clean up, too!
Need a few basic recipe ideas or a guide for meal planning?
Making Introductions and Shaking Hands
We’re going to assume that your child has basic manners like “please” and “thank you” down by now. However, because tweens today spend way more time with screens and virtual interactions, many are lacking some essential social skills.
In the recent article, 13 Things About Manners Gen-Xers Know That Their Kids Won’t, the importance of eye contact and a solid handshake are singled out as an issue for today’s young people.
The article states, “Children today do not learn to shake hands while looking the other person in the eye. Glued to their devices, (they) are allowed to be isolated while still amidst other people. But a good handshake begins a relationship—you don’t want to botch that initial greeting.”
This is why it’s essential that you encourage your tweens to shake hands when they meet new people and be sure to look the person in the eye as well. Practice this at home with them if needed so they feel more comfortable. They may think it’s silly, and you make think it’s old-fashioned, but in the professional world, this is still a common practice.
While we understand that eye contact can be a problem for people with Spectrum disorders or other conditions, but when possible, we should encourage our tweens to look people in the eye.
Eye contact isn’t just important when shaking someone’s hand. We can help our kids in this area by encouraging them to look their family members in the eye when talking. Also, when you are dining out, whether ordering from the counter or sitting down at a table, let your child tell the server what they would like to eat and make sure they look the person in the eye while doing it. Practice makes them much more comfortable to use this skill when needed.
Following Basic Hygiene Habits
If you have a tween, you’ll know that this is not necessarily intuitive. Tweens, particularly boys in most cases (sorry, but it’s true), are fairly noseblind to their own aromas and even personal appearance. Many tweens are not quite at that stage where they fully realize that they need to shower more often, and they just can’t be bothered. This can even apply to hand washing and brushing their teeth. Don’t be above requiring a quick breath check before leaving the house in the morning.
Applying deodorant, styling hair, managing oral hygiene, especially if braces become a factor, and teaching good skin care are areas that need to be addressed during middle school, if not sooner. Some tweens will be more responsible than others or more self-conscious, but others may need frequent reminders. Make it more fun by letting them pick out their products at the store if needed.
We’ve covered some of the tween chores that will help your tween build the life skills as they need as they move closer to independence. But there are other and less glamorous chores, many of which they should already have been doing, that also need to be introduced or added to as they age.
Busy schedules or lack of patience on the part of parents can be big reasons that many tweens have rarely done chores. However, you are doing your tween a disservice if you let this continue.
If you haven’t had your tween doing chores, now is the time to start. Being a contributing member of their family is good for kids. It gives them a chance to learn responsibility and develop a work ethic. Many studies show that kids who do chores are often more confident, feel closer to their families, and even do better in school. So don’t feel bad making them take out the trash. It’s good for them!
The tween years are a great time to begin preparing your kids for adulthood.
It doesn’t mean they can’t still be kids, but you will be shocked at how quickly the middle school and high school years fly by. Starting early is the best way to ensure they have the life skills they need to be successful and independent when the time comes. And it can also be a way to help build self-esteem during the tween years, which is super important during this awkward and often difficult time. One day they will thank you, but expect a few complaints right now.
It’s just part of this parenting gig.
Looking for a great gift for the tween/middle schooler in your life? Life Skills for Tweens is a great book to get your kid started in acquiring the important skills to be successful in life.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but these popular posts other parents found helpful might just make it a little easier.
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