Teaching Your Children Life Skills


I read an article the other day about a three year old little girl who survived on her own for two days when her mother suddenly died in their home. And it got me thinking… could my kids survive without me in a situation like that? What would they do?

It is a comfort to know that in the off-chance that something were to happen to both me and my husband, and the kids were here to fend for themselves until somebody realized they hadn’t heard from us in a few days, that our oldest daughter is eight years old and could most likely care for herself.

But what about the younger kids? Could she take care of them as well?

She knows to call 9-1-1 in an emergency, but what if the phone lines were down?

Let’s pretend worse case scenario… what if we are in the middle of a huge snow storm, and our power was knocked out. And what if, in the night while we are sleeping, a big tree falls on the master bedroom side of the house, and crushes me and Jerry…

Okay, I know this is way out there… but seriously, what would the kids do?

I need to know that my kids are equipped with the knowledge they need to survive until help arrives.

So, I decided to test Jada.

It was just a basic test, to see if she could heat up food to give to everybody if I wasn’t able to help. I set a jar of home canned carrots on the counter and watched to see what she would do.

Her first obstacle was getting the lid off. She unscrewed the lid’s ring, and then tried her very best to pry the lid off with her bare fingers. That was a no-go. She tried banging the lid on the counter like she’s seen me do with the jars of store-bought spaghetti sauce, but that didn’t work either. She thought for a moment, then I watched as she hunted down the can opener. I thought, This’ll be interesting! She’d never used a can opener before, and I figured she’d try to use it as you would on a regular, aluminum can of veggies. But she surprised me by using the hook on the back to pry the lid up like she was supposed to, and the jar was opened.

The whole time she was doing this, I was sitting in a chair just observing. I could tell she was enjoying the challenge.

Okay, the lid was off. Now what? She looked around for a bowl first, but then wisely decided she needed a pot instead. She found a small pot, and took it to the stove. Pulling up a chair to stand on, she placed the pot on the small front burner, and then proceeded to try to figure out how to use the knobs and settings. First thing was to determine which knob turned on which burner. She studied it for a while, but just wasn’t sure what to do, so I gave her a clue and told her to look at the little pictures beside the knobs. She did, and was able to figure out the right knob.

But then she asked me, in a somewhat flustered tone, “What number do I put it on?” She had no idea what the numbers meant. I used this moment to teach her that the 1 is the lowest setting, and the 9 is the hottest, with 5 being right in the middle at medium heat. I explained, “They will all heat your food. But the 9 will make it very hot, very quickly, and you might burn your food. And the 1 will heat it very slowly.”

As if a light bulb had gone off in her head, she pointed her finger in the air and said, “So, I’ll set it on five for medium!” I told her that was a good idea, but that the number 4 setting would probably be just right.

She leaned forward to turn the knob to medium heat… but the knob wouldn’t turn! She used all of her strength, and yet it didn’t budge. She then decided to pull on the knob, which quickly came off in her hand! I couldn’t help but laugh! I never realized that I’d never told her about pushing in on the knob before turning it. I had to help her again, as she just could not figure it out.

Once she had the stovetop mastered, she dumped the carrots into the pot to begin their simmer.

Satisfied with a job well done, she ran off to play a computer game.

“Wait a minute!” I called out to her. She came back into the kitchen to see what she’d done wrong. I cautioned, “You don’t ever leave food cooking unattended like that.” She quickly agreed. I meant for her to stand there and stir a few times until it was heated through, but instead she set the timer for 4 minutes, and rushed back to her game.

That works, too. I figured.

When the timer went off, she was quick to return and turn the burner off. I mentioned to her that she hadn’t stirred the carrots, and that they may not be heated through. She cautiously touched them, and decided they were hot enough.

She got out some plates, and used a spoon to serve everybody the carrots she had heated. She even got out cups and made sure that all of the younger kids had water to drink. I praised her for that, and explained how important it is that they drink lots of liquids, especially water.

After she had served Titus (4) and Xia (2), and had sat down at her plate to eat, I asked, “What about Elias?”

Good question! What would she do about baby Elias?

She looked at me puzzled and exclaimed, “I can’t breast feed him!”

I laughed and said, “I know. What would you do?” She thought about it for a minute, then said, “Baby food!” I asked, “What baby food?” And she remembered that we don’t buy baby food. So, she was out of ideas.

I opened a cabinet door and showed her some bottles I have stashed on the top shelf. I told her that she could get some milk out of the fridge and put it in the bottle… though he might not take it if it is cold. We talked a little about how to heat the milk, and test it to make sure it isn’t too hot, though I told her it would be safer to let him drink it cold if he would accept it.

But what if there wasn’t any milk? I explained to her the importance of him getting fluids. If there wasn’t any milk, she would need to make sure he was drinking water. I also told her that she could mash up whatever she was eating, though nothing hard like nuts, and she could feed it to the baby a little at a time.

I felt relief on her part as she gathered this knowledge. She seemed genuinely glad to know how to care for even her baby brother if she had to.

As we ate, I took some time helping Titus practice dialing 9-1-1, and we talked a little about what he should do in an emergency situation as well.

I am so grateful for running this drill with Jada. It really highlighted to me what I have neglected to teach her! I was actually quite ashamed with myself. Sure, she cooks with me, and mixes up her own baked goodies, but I have always manned the oven and stovetop. I didn’t realize she had no idea how to turn on a burner.

There are so many other things the kids need to know how to do, though. How to keep warm in freezing temperatures, how to get water if there is no power… how to change a diaper! I can tell you this is going to be an ongoing lesson in our home. And these aren’t only good emergency skills to have, these are essential life skills!

I want my girls to know how to cook, and properly clean and do laundry, and care for a child, and manage a home, among other things. And I want my boys to know how to chop firewood, and use tools to build stuff, and fix a car, and shoot a gun.

There’s a lot to teach. But these are important skills for our children to have. And I have found that kids truly appreciate being empowered with the knowledge they need to get along without you.

After all, it is our job as a parent to prepare our children for just that- life without us.

Would your child know how to survive on his or her own in an emergency situation? Are you teaching them life skills?


15 thoughts on “Teaching Your Children Life Skills”

  1. This is something I started doing with my almost-5-year-old this past summer. He was talking about the firemen who came to his preschool and told them about calling 911. It dawned on me that calling 911 is no longer as simple as picking up the phone and pushing buttons. To use our land line you have to dial the numbers and press “talk”. When I asked my little guy to show me how to do it I quickly realized he had no idea what a dial tone was or why he would need one. So this turned into a lesson on how to use the land line.
    From there, we went on to a more complicated lesson on how to use my cell phone in an emergency. I had recently upgraded to a “smart phone” and finding the screen with the dialer is a multi-step process and can be different every time. If we were in an accident or some other situation where I was incapacitated he would have never figured it out by himself.
    We then practiced all the things you mentioned practicing with your daughter. He was quite happy to tell Daddy he made soup “all by himself”! I now frequently have him get my cell phone and make calls so he can practice. I also have him practice using the can opener and turning on the stove, etc. And, we run through a lot of “what if” scenarios. I have been surprised many times by how much he actually knows AND by things he didn’t.
    ALSO,as an emergency services dispatcher for years, PLEASE make sure your children know basic imformation to give the people who answer 911!! It is heart-wrenching to have a child on the phone who needs help but can only say “I’m at Grandma and Grandpa’s house”.
    Knowing how to dial 911 is just the start. Children should be prepared for some of the answers they might need to give. For example:
    –Children should know their names AND their parents’/grandparent’s/caretaker’s names, first and last, not just “Mama and Daddy”.
    –address and whose house it is. What color the house is and any other information that would help responders find it. This is especially important in rural areas. DO NOT RELY ON 911 OPERATORS HAVING YOUR ADDRESS ON THE SCREEN.
    –if anyone has a health condition that might be relevant to an emergency, kids should know. Being able to say Mama is sick or Daddy takes medicine helps responders assess the patient.
    –knowing where the other parent or a caretaker works can also be invaluable information for dispatchers to locate your In-Case-of-Emergency person.
    –When travelling kids should know how to tell 911 operators what their vehicle looks like. Color and “brand”, as well as if it is a car or truck, etc. They should be able to say where you were headed and even what road you are on if you are driving a long way. This saves precious time when responders are trying to locate you in an emergency. (Again, especially in rural ares.)Kids should also know how to turn the vehicle off.

    It is amazing how much even the little ones can remember. We are practicing remembering important ICE phone numbers but we have also posted them on the refrigerator with our address. This way our little guy can see them and can also show them to emergency responders.
    I pray it will never be necessary but I also want to equip him with knowledge that is potentially life-saving.

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  2. Wonderful post…really got me to thinking!!!! I am disabled and in a wheelchair when we go out. I have a wheeled office chair in my kitchen to help me get around. My two little chickens (ages 6 & 8) have learned so much just out of neccessity, but I realize that there are holes in their learning. We homeschool, so everything is a school lesson!! 🙂 My oldest has learned so much in the kitchen. She is able to fix eggs, muffins, waffles,and many other things. She can make a mean Green Smoothie in the Blendtec and has numerous other things she can fix. She has started keeping a “family recipe book” and after Thanksgiving she decided that next year she wants to make my homemade cranberry sauce and her Great Grandma’s carrot casserole all by herself!!! LOL She told me the other day that she wants to learn to fix a whole meal all on her own. I think we will start with something easy, like spaghetti!!! My youngest is just starting to learn all of those goodies and her sister is great about teaching her what she has learned!! They both know how to do laundry…they help me with it all the time. The 8 yr old can handle laundry from start to finish…the 6 yr old is coming along beside her and learning how. 🙂 They both are learning how to garden thanks to their daddy and my oldest loves to help her Daddy working on projects outside…she is strong as an Ox and there is not much she won’t tackle!!!! Anyway, I guess we just keep adding new lessons each day…I try to remember to mention all the little things as they come up…like the knobs on the stove. Thanks again for the reminders and for jogging my brain. We Moms have to stick together!!!! LOL
    Blessings!!

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  3. I just discovered your blog today and am loving it! We hate to think of the what ifs- but I agree-there is a sense of peace knowing that our kids can take of things if they had to! My oldest is *almost* 9 and can do most of the things you drilled your daughter on- so much ‘survival’ stuff to cover! I’ll be working with her on how to start a fire in our woodstove & cook there & my hubby has been working with her on how to use a gun.

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  4. Great post! I couldn’t agree more. I did the same thing with my two oldest daughters when they were 9 & 8 so they would know what to do. It was a big relief to know they could hold down the fort if something happened to me. Now they are 16 & 15 and could run the household if they needed to. They are never too young to start learning these things.

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  5. Good post Kendra. I also think the girls should learn how to shoot a gun & work on cars as well as boys learn how to cook & clean. I mean if they want to learn and the parents are willing to teach them. (I wish my dad had shown me how to do little things on cars). Just makes for good and well rounded children. Just think how impressed their spouses will be! Goo job on the kiddos!

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  6. Cool idea. I bet Jada really loved the trust you put in her to figure things out.

    I have to admit, I’m a little uncomfortable with the stove being unattended – although it was only carrots, so not really a big deal. Don’t forget to talk about stove safety – what to do in case of a fire, epecially a grease fire. In fact, I once experienced a small grease fire from a candle burner – way scarier than it even sounds.
    Since we’re on the topic of teaching, and learning – I wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stage a grease fire (outside of course) just to show how to put it out and not freak out.

    I really love how you have so much time with your kids, and are always looking for new things to teach. Very inspiring.

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  7. On a side note there are these nice plastic jar lid openers that allow you to easily take off the jar lids without the risk of buggering them up like the metal can opener hooks normally do 🙂

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  8. Just the post I needed to read. I’ve been thinking recently that what my children would be better learning survival skills and how to live off the land as opposed to a lot of the useless knowledge they learn in school.

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  9. my older 2 would do pretty good(14 and 12)..the four year old would know how to get something to eat without cooking but that’s prob about it.

    Hubby has taught the bigger kids how to build a fire(in the grill, we have no fireplace). the boy is pretty good with an axe if they needed wood. they both can cook pretty good(one of the advantages of NOT having a microwave)and both can shoot a gun if needed. the 14 year old has some basic driving skills and I imagine if the situation needed it, she could drive.

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  10. This is a great reminder to us all. I know my 8 year old can run the stovetop as he made spaghetti noodles for us the other day and he can fry eggs. But you made me think of other things that I should make sure he know such as to make sure he would change his little brothers diaper, how to get water if there was no power,
    etc. Thanks!

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