What skills do our kids need in order to be ready for adulthood?

Readiness is an interesting concept. Many things we do, like going to summer camp for the first time, starting college or a new job or becoming a parent, we’re not technically “ready” for. We haven’t had any practice yet!

We learn best by practicing, and we improve our skills over time. As parents, in order to help our kids get ready to eventually become adults, we can encourage them to start taking on more responsibilities and learning new skills, especially during adolescence. Simple tasks like learning to cook or do laundry are the most straight forward tasks we know our kids need to learn. The skills that aren’t as straightforward or easy to teach are the interpersonal skills, problem solving skills, and the ability to make wise decisions.

Kids are often far more capable than we give them credit for. But until we give them the opportunity to practice more responsibility and independence, they won’t get the practice they need to eventually become functioning, competent adults. For our kids to learn the skills they need, it often requires us to do less for them and encourage them to figure more things out for themselves. Sometimes they need more of our guidance as they learn how to manage screens and learn to do focused work.

My radar has tuned in to how I think about simple, automatic tasks—things I learned long ago but have since forgotten how or when I did so. In fact, I’ve started writing these tasks down. What tasks do I—a (somewhat) normal adult—do regularly in order to keep my life moving forward?

According to Jessica Lahey, Julie Lythcott-Haims, and other experts on the topic of preparing kids for adulthood, many 18-year-olds of the 2010s have never made themselves an appointment, picked up their own prescription, or shopped for and prepared a meal. Even more frightening, apparently there are some 30-year-olds who still have their mom do these things for them!

I’ve been championing my kids’ responsibility and competence for quite some time, with my oldest daughters learning to shop and cook during their last years of high school, and all of my kids doing their own laundry and cleaning their own bathrooms starting at a young age. Dishes, kitchen clean up, cooking, and trash management have all been regular chores as well. And yet, very recently, I still found myself questioning, “Do each of my kids know how to do all the things they’ll need to be competent adults?”

To be honest, it’s difficult to keep track with five kids, so I won’t even try. Forget the lists that tell me what I need to teach my kids. My mission this past week was to come up with a checklist to give them so they can assess what they know now and what they still need to learn. It’s my way of getting them to take responsibility for learning what they still don’t know. Dad and I are here to support and guide as needed, but it’s their responsibility to keep track of their checklists and gain competence in areas where they see a need. There are some real benefits in my seventh-grader seeing that time management and planning are important adult life skills.

My “Ready for Adulthood” checklist seems especially appropriate for my son who turned 15 this week, because we’ve had a lot of “three more years” conversations lately. As in, “You have three more years to get comfortable making your own doctor appointments, because then you’ll be at college and will need to take care of that yourself.” At the gas station this week, I had him get out and do the whole process of paying for and pumping gas. He will, after all, be getting his driving permit later this year! I divide the list into subtopics:

Interpersonal Skills

Time & Life Management

Managing Money

Nutrition/Food Planning & Preparation

Health & Hygiene



It struck me as I compiled this list that there are many adults who don’t have some of these competencies. I’m certain that budgeting money and taking care of one’s health, as just two examples, are critical to a happy adult life. Therefore, I’m not taking any chances. I’m sure my kids, especially my older ones, know many of these things, but as my list grew over the week, I also realized there are definitely some things we’ve never discussed, and I’m not sure where they each are on the competence scale.

I do know college life has necessitated a lot of independence and my oldest have learned many skills simply from my not being there. Even so, I still want my highly responsible, competent 22-year-old to see if there’s anything she still needs to master! And I also want my twelve year old to see what he needs to learn over the next several years.


In Jessica Lahey’s book, The Gift of Failure, she focuses on the importance of letting our kids do many things on their own, without us hovering, so they can make mistakes, figure out how to do it better, and gain both competence and confidence BEFORE we’re no longer around to support them.

And that means shutting our mouths when they load the dishwasher using a different technique than we like and holding ourselves back from rushing that forgotten homework to school.

Ep. 43: The Gift of Failure with Jessica Lahey

Lahey gave examples of parents who sit next to their kids during homework time every day, waiting for any struggle or question so they can swoop in and help.

First of all, who has time for that? Second of all, those moans and grunts at the challenging math problem are just part of seventh-grade life. And swooping in to show I know my seventh-grade math does not help my son gain confidence or competence (says she who may have done this just last week but will not do so any longer). In any case, a missed math problem, failed test, or forgotten paper is a great opportunity in seventh grade to reevaluate procedures and figure out a new system. In a future adult job, missing deadlines or forgetting files will not be as great.

My Ready for Adulthood Check List is a work in progress. I will be adding to it as I come across new “adult” tasks I’ve forgotten. Let me know what you think, if you’re going to give it to your kids, and if there’s something missing. I’d appreciate your input. And once you give your kids their list (and stop doing things for them), sit back, relax, and enjoy some free time while you’re doing the most important thing you can do for your kids—letting them gain the competence – and confidence – to be an independent adult!


Ep. 43: The Gift of Failure with Jessica Lahey

Ep. 128: Letting our Kids Grow with Lenore Skenazy

Let the Kids Cook Dinner
15 Vital Life Skills Every Kid Should Know Before They Leave the Nest (sheknows.com)
30 Practical Things Students Need to Know How to do Before Heading off to College (huffingtonpost.com)
7 Essential Life Skills for High Schoolers to Build Before College (usnews.com)
Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College (pragmaticmom.com)
The 8 Life Skills all 18-Year-Olds Should Have (today.com)

Jessica Lahey’s The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed

Julie Lythcott-Haim’s How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

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