Before I became pregnant, I always imagined myself as a mother to a daughter. I was fascinated with the idea of raising a strong daughter who could also embrace her softness. However, when I got pregnant, my son came first. While I initially thought I had to change my goals, after three years of being a boy mom, I’ve realized that the ultimate goal remains the same. I want both my children to learn the life skills necessary to become resilient yet kind adults, even though the journey may vary for each of them.
My husband and I have made a conscious effort to challenge the cultural and societal gender roles that we were raised with. Now that we have a son and a daughter, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate a family unit that shares responsibilities regardless of societal norms. This is particularly important in today’s modern age where many basic life skills are being neglected by younger generations. Despite being millennials ourselves, my husband and I quickly realized after getting married that we lacked many essential skills needed to manage a household.
With this in mind, we started teaching our son about independence from an early age. We also enrolled him in a Montessori preschool that focuses on self-directed, hands-on learning. However, I believe that teaching kids basic skills doesn’t require a specific technique, just a lot of patience. Here are the five life skills that we are teaching our son (and eventually our daughter):
1. Baking From Scratch
Teaching kids how to cook and bake from scratch not only provides them with essential survival skills, but also introduces them to science and math. It also provides a great opportunity for family bonding when done under the right circumstances. Start by involving them in simple tasks like scooping or setting out ingredients, and gradually progress to more complex techniques.
Choose a meal and timeframe that feels achievable for both you and your child. It’s important to have realistic expectations. Regardless of their age, children will make mistakes while helping, and that’s part of the learning process. It’s also recommended to use child-friendly recipes to make it fun and easy. David Atherton’s Baking Book for Kids is a great resource for baking with children aged 5 to 9. As a former international health advisor, Atherton prioritizes nutrition in his recipes, so you can feel good about what you create.
This child-centered baking book is a great resource for getting kids involved and excited about the baking process. David Atherton, the 2019 winner of The Great British Baking Show, guides readers with countless delicious recipes, from savory treats to sweet baked goods. This collection includes oven-hot tips, an equipment list, step-by-step instructions, and delightful illustrations, making it a must-have for families who want to learn how to bake from scratch.
2. Communicating Basic Needs
Teaching kids to communicate their basic needs is crucial from day one. As a naturally talkative person, I’ve been engaging in conversations with my kids since they were in the womb. I also taught them some sign language as infants, as non-verbal communication is essential for language development. We have consistently narrated our actions, read books daily, and verbalized our feelings. I firmly believe that all of these efforts will result in a young man who can identify his emotions and express his desires clearly.
Now that our son is three years old, we are starting to see the results of his communication skills. He is very clear about his needs, leaving little room for misunderstandings. As his vocabulary expands, we are introducing the importance of tone and inflection. How we say things matters, and manners are important. We not only correct him when he makes demands, but we also strive to set a good example for him. For example, we encourage him to say, “Can I please have another snack?” This aspect of communication will take time to fully develop, but we have to start somewhere.
3. Maintaining a Bathroom
Most parents can agree that potty training is one of the most challenging aspects of toddlerhood. Dealing with a 2.5-year-old running around the kitchen instead of using the bathroom can be frustrating. It would take just 15 seconds to take care of it, but they prefer to hold it for another half hour. It’s toddler logic.
It took a few months of on-and-off training, but our son was finally potty trained shortly after his third birthday. However, we soon realized that we had traded dirty diapers for dirty toilet seats due to poor aim. So, our next lesson was how to clean up. With three people sharing the bathroom, our son is expected to contribute to the upkeep, just like the rest of us. For now, his responsibilities include wiping off the seat, putting it back down (very important), and restocking toilet paper. Eventually, we will introduce deeper cleaning tasks once he is older.
4. Putting Away Clothes
Washing three loads of clothes? Simple. Putting away three loads of clothes? Not so simple. This skill is beneficial for both the child and the parents. Interestingly, kids enjoy learning new things, especially when they see their parents doing it consistently. The first time we taught our son how to fold pants and put hangers in shirts, he was thrilled. He felt a sense of accomplishment in mastering this seemingly small task. Now, when he sees a bag of clean laundry in front of his room, he gets excited. I know that the excitement may fade when he’s 13 and would rather play video games, but at least he’ll be accustomed to doing the chore.
5. Setting and Respecting Boundaries
Learning to set and respect boundaries is a vital skill that everyone should learn from a young age, particularly boys. Our son’s introduction to consent and boundaries began before he was even one year old, thanks to our family cat. Babies are naturally curious and affectionate, so we knew he would eventually try to grab her. That’s why we always repeated the same phrase: “No, give her space.” When he was old enough to understand how to be gentle, we showed him how to ask for permission by observing the cat’s body language and letting her decide if she wanted to be petted (usually by sniffing his hand and rolling over).
We also applied the same concepts to physical games like tickling and wrestling. If he expressed any discomfort, we immediately stopped and asked for his permission before continuing. Now that he has a little sister, the concepts of consent and boundaries are integrated into their daily lives. They both need to understand and respect other people’s boundaries as well as their own in order to have successful friendships and relationships. Some moments are more successful than others, but teaching and reminding him about this life skill is my absolute commitment, no matter how old he gets.