27 Skills Your Child Needs to Know That She?s Not Getting In School

Written by zenhabits.net

Everyone knows that our school system, in general, is not giving our kids the basic reading, writing, ‘rithmatic and science skills needed to be competitive in the high-tech workforce of the upcoming generation (at least, that’s the general assumption, and we won’t argue it here).

But there’s much more to life than those basic subjects, and unless you have an exceptional teacher who is willing to break out of the mold, your child isn’t learning the crucial things he or she needs to learn in life.

Think about your own experience for a moment. When you got out of high school, did you know everything you needed in order to survive in life, let alone succeed? If you were lucky, you knew how to read and had some basic history and math skills, and if you were even luckier, you had good study habits that would serve you well in college.

But were you prepared for life? Most likely not, unless you had parents who did you that favor. In fact, many of us screwed up our early adult lives because we didn’t know those skills – and we’re paying the consequences now.

That’s a part of life, you might say, learning these lessons. But it’s also possible to prepare your child a bit before they go out on their own, and if we can’t get the schools to teach these skills, then let’s do it ourselves.

What follows is a basic curriculum in life that a child should know before reaching adulthood. There will probably be other skills you can add to this list, but at least it’s a starting point.

A note on how to teach these things: These subjects should not be taught by lectures or textbooks. They can only be taught by setting examples, by conversation, by showing, and by allowing the child (or teenager) to do these things on their own (with supervision at first). Once you’ve talked about the skill, showed your child how to do it, and let them do it under supervision a few times, give your child the trust to do it on his own, and to learn from his own mistakes. Check back every now and then to talk about what he’s learned.


  • Saving. Spend less than you earn. It’s such a simple maxim, and yet very few young adults understand it or know how to follow it. Teach your child from a young age to put part of money he receives or earns in the bank. Teach him how to set a savings goal, and save for it, and then purchase whatever it is he was saving for.
  • Budgeting. Many of us dread this task as adults, and suffer because of it, because we lack the understanding and skills necessary to make budgeting a breeze. Teach them simple budgeting skills, and what’s involved, and they won’t have problems as an adult. You could wait until teenage years to do something like this – but it’s a good thing because this shows them why basic math is necessary.
  • Paying bills. Give them bills to pay and have them pay it on time, online or in the real world. Learn how to write a check, paper and online, and how to make sure that you’re never late with bills again – either pay them immediately or automatically.
  • Investing. What is investing and why is it necessary? How do you do it and what are different ways of doing it? How do you research an investment? How does it compound over time? This is a good conversation to have with your teen.
  • Frugality. This is something to teach them from an early age. How to shop around to get a good deal, to compare between products of different prices and quality, to make things last and not waste, to cook at home instead of eating out too much, to control impulse buying. When we go out and do a shopping spree, including before Christmas, we are teaching them just the opposite.
  • Credit. This is a major problem for many adults. Teach them the responsible use for credit, and how to avoid it when it’s not necessary, and how to avoid getting into too much debt, and how to use a credit card responsibly.
  • Retirement. Is it better to work hard and retire or to take mini-retirements throughout life? That’s a personal question, but your child should be aware of the options and the pros and cons of each, and how to do each. Why it’s important to start investing in retirement when you’re young, and how much of a difference that can make through compound interest. How to do it automatically.
  • Charity. Why this is an important use of your money, and how to make it a regular habit. This should be not only a financial issue, but a social one. Show them how to volunteer their time and effort as well.


  • Critical thinking. One of the most important skills not taught in school. These days, we are taught to be robots, to listen to the teacher and not to question, to accept what we are told and not to think, to be good employees and to shut up. If you’re an employer, you might want your employees to be like this, and if you’re a politician, you might want your citizens to be like this. But is that how you want your child to be? An unquestioning, naive, ignorant citizen/employee/student? If so, carry on. If not, just start introducing the habit of questioning why? And the skill of find out the answer. And how to question authority – there is no one right answer. Conversation is a good way to accomplish this skill.
  • Reading. Sure, we’re taught to read. But schools most often make this boring. Show your child the wonderful imaginative worlds there are out there. And show them how to find out about stuff in the world through the Internet, and how to evaluate what they read for credibility, logic, factualness.


  • Positive thinking. While critical thinking is an important skill, it’s also important to have a positive outlook on life. Sure, things may be screwed up, but they can be changed for the better. Find solutions instead of complaints. And most of all, learn to believe in yourself, and to block out negative self-thinking.
  • Motivation. Learn that discipline isn’t the key to achieving a goal, but motivation. How to motivate yourself, different strategies, and how great it feels to achieve a goal. Start them with small, easily achievable goals, and let them develop this skill.
  • Procrastination. It’s a problem we all deal with as adults (and even as kids). Now, I believe that there should be a time for goofing off, being lazy, and having fun. But when there’s something to do that we really need to do, how do we get ourselves to do it? Learn the reasons behind procrastination, and how to address them. How to beat procrastination.
  • Passion. One of the most important ways to be successful is to find something you’re passionate about, and do that for a living. Your child won’t know the answer at a young age, but you should show her how to find her passion and how to pursue it, and why that’s important.


  • Anti-competition. As kids, we’re taught how to be competitive. In the adult world, that’s how we behave. And that results in back-stabbing, undercutting, feelings of resentment, and other life-affirming things like that. Instead, teach your child how there is room for many people to be successful, and how you’re more likely to be successful if you help others to be successful, and how they’ll help you in return. Learn that making friends and allies is better than making enemies, and how to do that. Learn cooperation and teamwork before competition.
  • Compassion. Not taught in the schools at all. In fact, instead of teaching children how to empathize with others and try to ease their suffering, our schools often teach children to increase the suffering of others. Learn to put yourself in the shoes of others, to try to understand them, and to help them end their suffering.
  • Love. Compassion’s twin brother, love differs only in that instead of wanting to ease the suffering of others, you want their happiness. Both are crucial.
  • Listening. Are our children taught how to listen in school? Or how to talk at someone. Perhaps that’s why many adults don’t have this critical skill. Learn how to truly listen to someone, to understand what they’re saying, to empathize.
  • Conversation. Goes hand-in-hand with listening, but the art of conversation is something that isn’t taught in school. In fact, kids are taught that conversation is bad in most cases. But in most cases, a conversation is what is needed, not a lecture. This is an extremely important social skill that should start in the home. Learn to converse with your child instead of talk at him.


  • Auto. Why cars are needed (no, not to look cool), how to buy a practical car, how to take care of it. How the engine works, what might break down, and how it’s fixed. Should be taught to both boys and girls (that should be obvious, but I had to say it).
  • Household. How to fix things around the house and keep things maintained. Plumbing, electricity, heating and cooling, painting, roofing, lawn, all that good stuff. The tools and skills necessary to do just the basic maintenance and repairs. And how to know when to call a professional.
  • Cleaning. Too many adults grow up without knowing how to do laundry, to clean a house properly, to keep the house clean and uncluttered, to have a weekly and monthly cleaning routine. Teach your child all these things instead of just telling her what to do.
  • Organization. How to keep paperwork organized, how to keep things in their place, to to keep a to-do list, how to set routines, how to focus on the important tasks.


  • Be present. For some reason, this extremely important skill is never taught to us when we’re kids. In truth, the younger we are, the more natural this skill is. As we get older, we start thinking about the future and the past, and the present seems to slip away from us. Some skills for living in the present would go a long way.
  • Enjoy life. Kids don’t have much of a problem with this, but some awareness of its importance and how to do it, even as an adult, would be helpful. Set a good example of this, and your kids will follow.
  • Find purpose. Whether this is a higher religious purpose, or the purpose of making your family happy, or the purpose of finding your calling, having a purpose in life is extremely important. Teach your children the importance of this and show how to do it yourself.
  • Develop intimate relationships. The best way to teach this is to develop an intimate relationship with your child, and model it with your spouse or other significant other (within appropriateness). Teach them the skills for developing these types of relationships, talk about the importance of it, and how to get through the bumpy parts as well. There are bad times in every relationship, but with the right skills of communication, empathy and compromise, they can get through them.

Do you have any skills to add to this list? Let us know in the comments.

36 thoughts on “27 Skills Your Child Needs to Know That She?s Not Getting In School

  1. Leisureguy

    I would add:

    Negotiating, using the method described in, say Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher & William Ury. The book is not a mere collection of tactics, but how to proceed from before the start.

    Decision-making—and specifically avoiding the common errors that self-taught decisionmakers fall into, as described in Winning Decisions, by Schoemaker and Russo (or in their earlier book, Decision Traps).

    How to find solutions—as taught in the CoRT Program (a tested and successful program by Edward de Bono). Information at http://tinyurl.com/2a9wfe and/or Google “CoRT Program”.

    How to set goals and plan to achieve them and schedule tasks that will lead to that achievement — basically, the steps described in 7 Habits of Highly Effective people, which shows how to make aspirations concrete by scheduling daily steps each week.

    I’m very pleased that you included “listening,” a vital skill and one that is untaught. On a practical level, I would include keyboard skills and some knowledge of the practice of programming and accounting.

  2. Leslie Erentreich

    You know I’m so sick and tired of people blaming the school system for their children not being up to par with “global” standards. I attended public school and had excellent teachers, one of which one was awarded teacher of the year by Disney. My boyfriend and his younger siblings all attended the most prestiges private schools in my area and let’s just say you only need money to get a degree. So yes there are bad teachers out there but education begins at home. Parents don’t spend enough quality time with their children in their early years. If you’re children attend daycare make sure it has an educational program. If someone is babysitting your child ensure they are being read to. I’m 26 and I started tutoring kindergarten children at 12 as well as had a summer job babysitting my one year old cousin. Every day I fed her breakfast in her highchair in front of the TV with The Little Mermaid video and captions to read along. You are their most influential educator. Don’t be intimidated by fear that you’re not as educated as you would like. Be there for them and seek help if you need it. There are free services everywhere…Early Educational Development Centers often accept govt aid for those who can’t afford it. Libraries are free and offer an abundance of resources.

  3. tenderlimb

    As a teacher, I can tell you for certain that many of your assumptions about what is not taught in schools is incorrect. It is always interesting to me how thinking people make assumptions about what goes on in classrooms without ever stepping foot on school grounds.
    I write this just to say that you might consider spending a few days in a variety of classrooms before posting something like this.

  4. Deirdre

    as a student, I can tell you, and also the teacher Tenderlimb, that this article is quite correct. most of the skills above I learned from my mother, and my mother alone, not in school. some of these skills are briefly mentioned at school, but nobody thinks of it to actually teach them. we learn how to formally speak, how to write letters, mathematics and geography, foreign languages and how the humand body works, but nothing of the human mind, interaction, or actual life skills. we only learn they exist, we are not told how to use them.

  5. jolidog56

    Tenderlimb needs to re read the article and not take it as an insult. As for not stepping foot on school grounds, I spent 13 yrs (minus summers) in school and I agree. Unless he/she is saying that education has vastly improved over the years. Schools were never meant to replace parenting. Unfortunately most of the criticisms of public schools are aimed at doing just that. Just teach the facts and lead by example and leave parenting to the parents. If the parents are too ignorant or lazy the circle of ignorance will continue. The education system cannot fix social ills.

  6. Jared

    Please include logic, common sense, reasoning and note taking. I was a teaching assistant for multiple courses in college (a well respected public school in the North East), and I would say 90% of college students are lacking in these 3 areas. They just can’t figure things out for themselves. If it’s not spoon fed to them, they don’t understand. Sadly, some colleges are catering to these students by giving out Powerpoint slides as notes and then testing on the content of the slides. I personally had a final exam that included a question that given the allotted time could only be answered if the slide was memorized.

    School is supposed to be about learning, not memorizing and regurgitating.

  7. Dana

    one thing i’m surprised you didn’t mention is cooking. A vital skill many are growing up without learning

  8. Mel C

    How about the skill to differentiate between like-sounding words?:
    If something belongs to you it’s YOURS
    If it belongs to it, it’s ITS
    There is no such thing as “effecting.” You either affect (verb) or you create an effect (noun).
    It’s the simple things that make us sound stupid.

  9. macheath

    Many of these are not directly taught in schools, yes. However, schools are designed for academia not morality. Many of these skills are meant to be taught at home. It is not the teachers’ job to replace the parents.

  10. Emily

    As an instructor of Freshman Composition at a four year university, I think I can safely say that your children are questioning authority, loudly and rudely. You’ve told them that their most mediocre attempts are exceptional and given them throphies just for trying, so when their half-assed attempts earn them grades reflective of their efforts, they believe that I’m a bitch with a vendetta and they’re the special, special snowflakes you idiots have spoiled them
    to be. I’m not worried about their self-esteem; they seem much too pleased with themselves as it is. I’m actually trying to teach them something. So if you’d teach them a little humility, I’d really appreciate it.

  11. urethane

    “So if youโ€™d teach them a little humility, Iโ€™d really appreciate it.”

    I’m a teacher too, so I know where you’re coming from. Unfortunately, what you’re seeing is the (at least) third straight generation brought up with a mentality that demands instantly fulfilled entitlements, combined with carefully nurtured arrogance but no sense of humility, patience, etc. Can’t expect their parents to know any better because THEY weren’t taught it either. What generation did it start with? Boomers, blame them. Too late to stop the train wreck, it’s already wrecked. All we can do is hope to save individuals out of the wreck.

  12. Alex

    Actually, I’m a 15 year old student, I participated in many activities over the years, and I don’t have one trophy or anything, real or symbolic. I don’t act entitled, and I hate the way my generation is hated by everyone. Questioning authority isn’t rude. If we aren’t allowed to question authority, then we may as well hand in our brains. They weren’t meant to regurgitate lines from Romeo and Juliet or the parts of a bean. They were meant to think and question. I wish people would realize that being an individual isn’t being spoiled.

  13. Jo

    A work ethic would be helpful; most are too glued to their cellphones and facebook to put in a decent effort; they have been rewarded for nonperformance by their helicopter parents who do everything for them. Oh well, reality will be their teacher when mommy and daddy kick the bucket.

  14. Kenton

    I agree with your general idea, but the problem is that the school system has been positioned and championed by the government and society as a replacement for parenting; just compare the number of hours a day or week a kid spends in school vs. the number of hours of quality parenting they receive at home. If schools were not glorified daycare centers, but had a smaller scope (with maybe only 4-5 hours of school a day, so kids are out by 12 or 1pm), then parents would have the opportunity to enrich their kids with these things. But then the parents would have to actually be home throughout the day, which is less common as wages fall in this country.

  15. Maireadandtokki

    I agree. Parents should share this important skill with their children. Mine didn't want the hassle of teaching me, and I suffered as a result. I now share the skills I have learnt with my son. In fact he is often the one who cooks, so that he can grow in confidence. He really enjoys it, and is proud of his ability.

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