Twenty things your kids should know how to do

I recently had one of those weekends.

I am trying to balance the workload of a new business, with the consistent responsibilities of being a mother and following through with the expectations of being a wife. You know, laundry, dishes, cleaning, meal planning, homework, tending to the animals, picking up after everyone … the list goes on and on.

But I had an ah-ha moment as I hid in the bathroom and pretended not to hear the calls of “Mom?” and “Naomi? Where are you?”

Instead of grumbling under my breath that everyone seems to rely on ME for these tasks, it’s time to teach THEM how to do for themselves! Here are 20 things I think your kids should know!

20 things kids should know how to do

Not only is it important for there to be some balance around the house (whether you work outside the home or not) it is crucial we raise our kiddos with the know-how to do these tasks, without being nagged or without hearing “but I don’t know how to do that!”

1. Hold the door open for others. This goes without saying, yet how many times do you see it happen? Just a couple of days ago, while out for dinner with our family, my 11 year old held the door open for his sister. The hostess in the restaurant was gushy and said “Oh wow! That was cool to see.”  It’s not just a boy thing, girls can hold the door open for others as well. It’s a simple act of kindness and respect, and trust me, the effort goes a LONG way!

2. Do laundry. You might say this is far reach depending on how old your children are, and I’m not suggesting you make your 3 year old load the washing machine. However, raise your hand if you’re tired of turning clothes right-side-out and separating underwear from pants that were removed in one fell “schwoop”? Teach your little ones to place the dirties into their laundry bin in the same way they would like them returned to their drawers. When your kids are a little older, let them take over the responsibility to put folded clothes away. When they are old enough to reach the dials on the back of the machine, put them to work! I wouldn’t recommend letting them deal with the delicates, however.

3. Set the table. I love these simple suggestions from Simple Kids on how to teach little ones to set the table. If yours are older than that, begin them with the habit of setting the table daily on their own with no cues or assistance.

4. Know how to cook.  I took this topic to my Facebook Page to ask what my crew thought. Jess suggested I add “cooking” to the list and I concur! My 8 year old recently made dinner for us recently and she did a super job. It doesn’t have to be fancy, in fact, in can be something that is frozen-to-skillet or a microwave dish. The point is, giving some responsibility in the kitchen to your kids is a good thing. Let them be creative and feel confidence. It will serve them LONG after they’ve left your nest.

[Tweet “It’s time for our kids to take responsibility around the house!”]

5. How to budget and live within your means. YES to Carin for suggesting this one! Not sure how to start though? I really love the Three Jars system and want to learn more about it! Renee, a friend from our time in India added to this topic and said the best thing her parents taught her was how to comparison shop and balance a checkbook. By learning about brands, price comparison what groceries actually cost, they taught their family how to plan meals, the value of money, and a lifelong ability to feed and care for ourselves, within a budget.
Same goes with learning to write checks, and balance a checking account.  

6. How to be safe. My friend Mahima suggested this one and followed it up with “call a parent or friend to give a ride home, or call a cab” but I think we can also expand this to also apply to choosing friends in the first place, and guarding their vulnerability safely.

7. Don’t conform to your friends just because they have an opinion that is different from your own. This tidbit came from Jill and I whole-heartedly agree. This is a concept / characteristic that I think most children need to be taught. Some rare ones come by it naturally, but if yours doesn’t, consistently explore the comfort of having different opinions and establish a “agree to disagree” vibe in your own home as a starting point.

8. How to make breakfast. I know we talked about knowing how to cook up above, but it’s equally as important for your child to know how to fend for themselves in the morning. After years of living abroad with a staff full of people ready to serve, we discovered early on in our time back in the United States that our children, even the youngest, needed to know how to pour a bowl of cereal or spread his bagel with cream cheese. As they’ve gotten older, they have also learned how to scramble eggs and make bacon in the oven. All worthwhile on those mornings when everyone needs to be out of the house early!

9. How to make their bed. Ok, so, I have NOT mastered this one yet. Not even close. No one in our family makes our bed in the morning. I am half tempted to just let this one slide, after all, one can’t expect perfection.

10. Write thank you notes. THIS one on the other hand, IS a must in our house. I actually don’t care if it’s a text, a voice mail or a photo with a card made out of Sharpies and a piece of construction paper. The effort to say THANK YOU is important and we do it as often as we can.

11. Add air to vehicle tires. Again, we haven’t tackled this yet, but it’s on our list. I knew how to change a tire when I was 15 and it’s the least I can do, to teach my children how to check the air in their tires and refill as necessary. Pumping gas is a necessary evil too! Have you shared this skill with your children or do you assume they’ll know how to do it?

12. How to load a dishwasher. I do not have a specified way to load a dishwasher, but I do know that a child should know how to rinse dishes, place large food debris in the trash, how to generally load a dishwasher and then rinse the sink. Can you imagine being able to say “hey ______, can you load the dishwasher?” and then have it magically done?

13. How to sweep and mop floors.  You might think this is an obvious chore that most children could automatically accomplish. However, when my middle child drew the “sweep the kitchen floor” chore stick a couple of weeks ago, the awkwardness was almost comical. I realized right then and there that proper sweeping is something to be taught!

14. How to shower / wash their own hair. Again with the obviousness, but how many of you are still washing your children’s hair in elementary school? Instruct your kiddos on the appropriate amount of shampoo and conditioner (much less than they will normally squeeze out!) and how to properly rinse it all out before ending their bath or shower.

15. How to volunteer. One of my biggest soapboxes you’ll find in my corner is that of volunteerism. Teaching children to have this as part of their normal and everyday practice is super important in my books. Taking your children along when YOU volunteer to begin instilling the love of doing something for the simple joy of giving to others. Often times, children are too young to volunteer officially for an organization, but there are always opportunities to work alongside you while you stuff bags for your local food bank, or stick labels on outgoing packages. Try Volunteer Match to find opportunities near you.

16. How to show up and be on time. Whether you set your clocks ahead by a couple of minutes, or set alarms for those days when you need to leave the house at a specific time, teach your children young to be on time for commitments, events and functions. I’m consistently surprised by the number of adults I encounter who set “be on time” as an annual New Years Resolution. Start with your littles and let their resolutions be saved for more important goals and ambitions!

17. How to clean a toilet. Teach them how to apply your choice of cleaning solution, scrub up underneath the rim and let the brush dry out before replacing it into the storage caddy.

18. How to order a meal while dining out. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you intentionally instruct your children on this topic, it builds confidence and teaches respect. Teach them how to politely ask questions about their meal request, and even inquire about substitutions. Children who can look their waitstaff in the eye, speak clearly and say “thank you” while handing back their menu adds up to a really enjoyable experience when dining out with your family!

19. How to pack their own suitcase. As frequent travelers while raising our children, I often pined for the day when I would no longer have to pack ALL of the suitcases for our family. What I didn’t realize was that I should have started sooner in allowing them to begin helping! If your children are young, let them step alongside you during the packing and explain the purpose behind your packing – ask them how many pairs of socks they will need for a 5 day trip, etc. As they get older, allow them to pack themselves, with a check by you before you actually leave the house. The effort put into training them to pack for themselves will be well worth it the next time you get your passports out!

20. Don’t be afraid to talk to mom about stuff. A second contribution from the awesome Jess, this is a big one. I think that we as parents move very quickly from loving our little ones while they are little life being full of cuddles, before we know it, bedroom doors are getting slammed in our faces. We then wonder what possibly went wrong. We need to make more of an effort to get our kids talking to us about all of the things from an early age. I like asking mine at bedtime these three questions: What was your favorite thing from today? What didn’t go so well today? What do you hope for tomorrow? It can surprisingly spur some fantastic conversation. Bonus Tip: be present enough to listen to the answers.


What do you think? What would you add to this list?


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    • says

      It is so important with wonky work hours! Just in going through the exercise of asking my tween to do some pretty basic tasks, I was surprised by what I had so far failed to teach!

  1. says

    This is a fantastic list, Naomi – spot on! The one thing I’d add to it that has changed my life is teaching the kids to meet me outside when I pull up from the grocery store, help me carry the bags in, and put all the groceries away. It’s like a little bit of magic happens when I drive up and see the kids coming down the steps. And who loves to put groceries away?!? Many hands make much lighter work for all!

    • says

      Brilliant addition, Susan! I typically do my grocery shopping while the kids are at school, but I love this idea and may start leaving the non-perishables for them to help put away when they get home!