THE BLOG
07/22/2013 06:41 pm ET Updated Sep 20, 2013

5 Reminders When Teaching Kids Life Skills

Getty

Imagine you're in military school. It's sunrise. A drill sergeant screams in your face to make your bed. You whip out of bed, flip the sheets over the mattress, throw pillows to the top and stand at attention. You're 7-years-old. Your heart races while the fear of death streams through your veins. By breakfast it's all forgotten but most likely tomorrow morning you're going to make the bed before the sergeant finds you in the prone position.

Fear is a great motivator and teaching tool. Some parents are adept at this school of learning but thankfully most are not. Most do not have the drill sergeant within to bark out the orders or scare their little ones to death for a simple household chore. We've become more civilized and capitalistic.

Money is the great motivator and teaching tool (lose some and you know what I mean). We pay for an education and we work for money. Yet within the family household, both money and fear tend to be ineffective when teaching kids life skills. If you go the fear route, you can damage your kids for life. If you go the money route most likely you lose credibility.

Being a "boss" to your kids means you will have to play the roles of: accountant, banker, boss, manager, scorekeeper and police. But around the house you do not deal with your children on an arm's length basis, so this whole work for allowance thing is really set up for failure. If anyone has had a consistent allowance program working in your household for more than one year, please let me know.

Otherwise, using the following five steps to teach your kids discipline and responsibility can go a long way towards helping them get with the program and start good life habits.

1. Give kids responsibility when they are young

Toddlers are primarily known for their messy, unruly behavior, but obviously they don't mean any harm. What they want is independence. This is the absolute best time to give kids something to do.

2. Make time to teach

Plan to sit on the floor of your kid's room or the bathroom. When kids have time with you doing something that is both beneficial and educational everyone gets something out of it. Do not try and rush kids. We don't like to be rushed, they don't either.

3. Prioritize

Don't try to tackle too much when teaching kids life skills. Of course we want our kids to be deft in athletics, be multi-lingual, brilliant and a good human being. Learning how to make the bed can be just as much a contributing factor to success as being able to do multiplication.

4. Nurture vs. Nature

Each child is different and most of us arrive here with 90 percent of our nature defined. There's only a small amount we can influence with nurturing. Keeping this in mind will help keep our expectations for children in check. It's important to be open to each kid's nature. From here we can create the best strategy for teaching. For instance, if your child is more communicative, you may want to communicate the reasons why making their bed is a good activity to start the day. If your child is a late sleeper and hard to motivate, perhaps reinforcement is best accomplished in something more structured that works like points to be collected to do something they really want to do. I'm sure there's a kids app for that.

5. It's Not What You Expect, It's What You Inspect

Because skills are learned over a period of time, parents must make sure to inspect their kids' work. If you show them how to make their beds, tell them it's important to do each morning, give them an opportunity to earn credit, then you must close the circle and inspect their work. This feedback is hugely important. Without it the task has less weight and so do you.

Teaching kids life skills is a lifetime task. How you get your kids to adopt good behavior depends on their nature and yours. What you can do is prioritize life skills teaching, be patient, communicate your values, inspect, and give encouraging feedback. A lot of this is actually teaching ourselves how to stay on point and be consistent. So unless you want to go the drill sergeant or the money manager route the best way to teach kids your values is to delegate, prioritize, be patient, nurture but understand their nature, inspect and give feedback.