Imparting basic life skills to your kids is the most important aspect of their education. Looking around, it seems it is also the area that is most lacking. I do not know if this is because it is difficult, or that it is overlooked. I just know that way too many people have to figure out the basics for themselves when they enter the adult world.
Life skills are those general skills we use in our regular everyday life. Tying your shoelaces and crossing the street are two basic lifeskills most people are taught early on. Almost everyone (at least in Western countries) gets a drivers license in their late teens. Most people do not learn how to negotiate a deal, even though it is also a basic lifeskill that almost everyone needs.
Other life skills inclucde using a power drill, swimming, assembling a large piece of furniture, and choosing matching colors. Some more useful but less applicable skills are shooting a handgun and surviving for three days with only a knife and box of matches. A more important skill set which is universally needed but almost never taught is how to analyze the news, verify (or estimate) its accuracy, and form your own opinion. The most important lifeskill is how to choose a spouse and keep them happy, a skill taught in a direct inverse porportion to its importance.
There are many areas where even as a parent you simply do not have the information, and cannot teach it to your kid until uou first teach it to yourself. This short essay assumes that you already have the necessary knowledge to impart to your child. Even when parents have the relevant skills and information, they often fail to transmit them to the next generation.
There seem to be two major reasons for this failure. One, they often think that certain skills come with age, such as a kid knoowing how to cross the street when he turns nine, or marriage skills magically appearing when their child turns 23. Thankfully they (mostly) do not have the same ideas about driving skills devolving on their prodigy at age sixteen.
The second reason skills are not transferred are a simple lack of understanding how to transmit them. Telling your child to look both ways before they cross the street is not teaching them to cross safely. Telling them a hundred times to look both ways will probably work, but it is a pretty poor way to handle this lesson. Formal education suffers very noticably from this failure. It is a useful institution for imparting knowlege (1+1=2), but pretty useless for teaching skills, since skills are not just piles of information.
A third common error is not respecting the age of the child. Many people will teach their children some skill before they are ready, often at the preschool age when parents are in a rush for their kids to be more self-sufficient. Many other skills are taught to late as parents do not take advantage of their child’s readiness to learn at a young age. As a general rule, children who ask for information are ready to recieve it, and they will also quickly indicate disinterest if they are being taught something they are not ready for.
After you are satisfied that you have the necessary knowledge and that you have mastered the relevant skill; that your child is at an appropite age to learn it; and that simply telling him what you know is not the way to teach him a life skill, try the following easy three steps:
Show him how you do it.
Let him watch you once or twice, so he can see what it is that he needs to learn. The best time to teach a skill is when you are engaged it that activity. If that is not possible, talk to him about it. Describe whatb is involved, and maybe tell him how it went for you the first time.
Help him do it a few times.
Do it together. As much as possible this should be a hands-on joint effort. The first time he is on a bike, you hold the handles and run alongside. In other activities this will involve a lot of discussion. You cannot go out on his first dates with him, but you can give him plenty of time before and after discussing the dynamocs of dating.
Let him do it himself, and stand on the side.
After a few rounds of doing it together he is ready to try himself, but not yet ready to do it independantly. Pull back, but stay on the side. Do not give him step-by-step support, but point out any significant mistakes and useful tips. After a little practice, let him do it independantly, even if he is still at a beginners level.
After writing this, I wonder if I am not writing something completely obvious. What I wrote is the basics of instruction, and not something that there should be any value in spelling out. Looking around, I see that I am not writing something which is obvious to most people. Many people miss some of these steps, mostly for a lack of paying attention to how their children respond to their instruction. They neglect to introduce them to a new topic, thinkg they have seen it before. They do not take the time to do it together with their child, thinking that their verbal instruction is sufficient. They might not stay around to watch the first few times their kid does it on his own, becuase he already knows how to do it. When they pay attention to the learning process, it is clear that something is missing with these three steps, and that when the learning is done slowly, from demostration to training to application, that is when the lessons are learned the best.