Tearing my hair out Teaching Life Skills to a Teen!
As parents it is often quicker and easier to do things for our children, rather than spending
time waiting for them to do them themselves. But in the greater scheme of things, doing
things for our children, does not help them in the long run. It just means that we haven’t
given them the opportunity to practise and build the skills they will need as an adult, before
we send them out into the big wide world of independent living. So, they won’t be able to
manage for themselves! Helping them too much or doing for them, is counter- productive.
This is especially important with teenagers
It is much better to do them a really big favour and give them the skills they will need, before they actually need them, no matter what resistance you may get from them at the time! And you will get resistance at times, as they would often prefer that you do things for them. And yes, it can be a real pain in the proverbial, having to stand and watch as a child struggles, whilst learning to do a particular task. But that is exactly what they are doing! Learning.
As a foster Carer I have to help children learn all sorts of skills that they may have missed out on in their former lives, and recently I have had to devote my time to teaching Life Skills to a 16/17-year-old who will have to leave our care and go out into the big wide world of ‘living independently’ for the very first time. Quite a daunting task. At the age of 16 - 18 some teens may want, or even need, to move to independent living. But not all of them are ready.
So where do you start with this preparation? I really didn't know. There is a lot of information available, but you have to know what to look for before you can search for it, and I didn't. I could think of the basics like being able to cook, clean, shop on a budget. But this didn't seem to be enough. And I had lots of questions! The main one being “Is there an app for that?”
As adults we know a lot, but it is stored in our subconscious. We do things without thinking about them! We instinctively know things, without having to give them a second thought. For instance, I know what does NOT go in a microwave (especially foil and metal). And that foods when heated in the microwave should be stirred part way through the cooking time so they don’t boil over or leaving you with an explosion of tomato soup to wipe off from every surface of the oven. I how to change light bulbs and batteries. I know my phone number and National Insurance number off by heart. That when I’m washing, laundry, darks are cool and whites-hot. I know what to do if I have a stomach is upset or have a cold or flu. I know the basic shelf life different types of foods and that a meal I cooked and refrigerated three weeks ago should be thrown away. That the contents of opened tins or pasta sauce bottles should be stored in the fridge - not in a cupboard!
But my foster daughter doesn’t!
And these things really have to be taught over time, as they happen, so the child or teen can experience them, learn them by doing them, and hopefully pick up from our knowledge and experience as adults too. Bit by bit. Like being drip fed.
But my foster daughter has turned 17 now and we were having to start looking at housing options, getting her on the housing list, teaching her how to be proactive (something she really doesn’t yet understand or aspire to be!) Helping her to plan and organise, to make phone calls to professionals, set up a bank account, and make her own appointments and arrangements! How to shop for her meals on a budget - how to store things and when to use them or re-order. It’s seemingly endless.
All of this we, as adults, do without thinking!
But as foster carers we are having to put 16 year’s worth of learning into a 1 year plan!
Help! I feel as if have been thrown in at the deep end of the pool. No! Perhaps more accurately dumped into the middle of the ocean. So, goodness knows how my foster daughter must feel.
So, what are the really important things to pass down to a young person so they can learn to live independently? I still don’t know - but I too am learning fast!
Getting teenagers ready for leaving home means that we need to change our expectations of them and start treating them as if they are already the young adult’s we want them to be. And to do this it means we must do much less for them and expect far more from them.
Now you may be lucky enough to be in a position to keep your child at home beyond the age of 18. But as foster carers we are not. And your child may decide to stay, but equally they may want to move out. Even if it is when they are 25, or 30! But they will still need those skills. So, if you are a parent - please start this early so your child can take everything in their stride! Don’t do too much for them.
They will thank you - when they look back. And you really will be glad you did!