29 life skills every child should have by six

Kinderling News & Features

This morning we almost didn’t make it.

To school that is. I practically threw my son at the childcare worker before rushing to drop my daughter off right as the bell rang.

Why were we late? At the moment I have an awesome morning routine (if I do say so myself). Inspired by Genevieve Matthews and her book School's Coming, I make sure breakfast is eaten, clothes and shoes are on and hair is done before the little humans are allowed to sit and watch some TV while the big human (me) gets ready in peace.

This morning there were constant interruptions. My son was still hungry, my daughter wanted to wear different pants, someone was thirsty. The list goes on. It is not uncommon to hear long and plaintive cries of “Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum” in our house. Only to discover the most urgent need is to pick up a piece of Lego that lies two feet from the distraught child.

“You’ve got arms and legs, haven’t you?” has also become a familiar refrain. Yes. We have become our parents.

Where did the manners go?

But it seems there are certain life skills my children should have by now, that my partner and I have somehow failed to teach them.

Enter Rose Smith, sensei and founder of Manners for the Modern Warrior.

After being involved in martial arts for over 20 years, Rose began to notice a pattern. Her students would be polite and respectful in class, but they seemed to leave their manners on the mat. She decided to write a program that would teach the importance of manners both in and outside class. It’s a lesson that some parents have either missed or struggle to teach.

Rose says it comes down to having too much information.

“We're bombarded with what we should and we shouldn't do and it's conflicting advice. We’re told that we're creating narcissists because we praise them too much. But then other stories come out saying if you don't praise them enough they won't have any self-confidence and they will wither and die”.

Rose’s approach is simple, and it’s all about teaching life skills. Knowing when to say please and thank you is important. But expressing gratitude, and being an active part of the household are also part of the package.

“It can start at a very early age. Thank you for making my dinner. Thank you for tucking me in. It's actually expressing appreciation and gratitude and we can do that for anything. And you know as we get older then expressing that appreciation with actions as well as words.”

In Manners for the Modern Warrior, Rose makes it an aspiration to be polite, and to help around the house. Children see that a warrior is not just someone who can fight. They are also respectful, kind, responsible and compassionate.

Age-appropriate tasks

I remember someone once telling me that parents become hardwired to providing for their children when they’re babies, but somewhere along the line, many get stuck in that mode. That is, when a baby cries at six weeks of age, they absolutely need you to respond straight away. But once that child is two or three, their needs aren’t the same, and you don’t have to meet their every desire anymore.

Shockingly, it’s taken me until now to realise that I am still responding to my children as if they are several years younger. My daughter is old enough to get her own breakfast, to dress herself, to fetch things from another room. My son is still a bit young for many things, but he can walk, and pick things up … so he really doesn’t need me to pick up that piece of Lego.

If you’re like me, and need a bit of a prod on ways your children can be more independent, Rose has written a series of age appropriate life skills our kids should be capable of (see below).

And if you need more help there are both physical classes (if you’re based in Sydney) or an online course (for everywhere else)

Preschool age 2 - 3

  • Help put toys away
  • Dress themselves (with some help from you)
  • Put clothes in the laundry/ basket when he/she undresses
  • Brush teeth and wash face with assistance
  • Chores could be tidy up cushions on the lounge, put shoes in pairs at the front door
  • Know what kind of adult to approach when lost (one in uniform generally)   

Kindergarten age 4 - 6

  • Know own name, phone number and address
  • Dial 000 and ask for help
  • Look others in the eye when talking
  • Be able to greet another (hello, my name is)
  • Listen to direction from teacher
  • Follow the rules
  • Take turns when playing
  • Share with others
  • Be responsible for your belongings
  • Be a good sport
  • Be able to wait without interrupting
  • Be able to put toys away with minimal assistance
  • Clean teeth
  • Go to toilet unassisted
  • Help with simple chores such as setting and clearing table, putting clothes away
  • Say sorry
  • Control temper

At this age, your child should also learn how to:

  • Perform simple cleaning chores such as dusting in easy-to-reach places and clearing the table after meals
  • Feed pets
  • Identify monetary denominations, and understand the very basic concept of how money is used
  • Brush teeth, comb hair, and wash face without assistance
  • Help with basic laundry chores, such as putting clothes away, and bringing dirty clothes to the laundry area
  • Choose own appropriate clothes to wear (from a selection put out by parents or caregivers)