In the world in which we live, and by that I mean “IEP land,” the phrase “life skills” can be loaded and confusing.

If your child is in a life skills classroom or life-skills-focused curriculum, we tend to think of students with more needs and less of a focus on traditional academics.

It seems that is where many school districts and IEP teams are–either, or. You’re either on a traditional academic path, or you’re on the life skills path.

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teenager drinking a smoothie
All teenagers need life skills, not just disabled ones.

The two are not mutually exclusive; our students should never have only two options. That goes against the very spirit of IDEA, which says that a child’s educational program should be individualized.

And I don’t believe that all of our kids fit into one of two buckets. The adults certainly don’t, so why would the kids?

As a result, many students who are on a strictly academic path, with IEP support that are strictly academic, leave school with a huge deficit in functional life skills.

‘Life skills’ has become a loaded and derogatory term in some circles. Intellectually disabled people are still some of the most marginalized people on the planet.

Take a look at a package of Girl Scout cookies. The Girl Scouts pride themselves on teaching life skills.

A package of baby wipes on a table, emphasizing life skills for teens.
The Girl Scouts proudly teach Life Skills. So should all of us.

Life skills refer to the abilities and competencies necessary for individuals to effectively navigate various aspects of life, such as personal and professional relationships, personal health and well-being, and financial management.

If you are looking for life skills IEP goals or independent functioning IEP goals, I have many other lists like that in the transition IEP goals bank.

Common Life Skill Categories

All people are different and have differing abilities in various categories. How your teenager does in these overarching categories will vary, even from child to child within the same family.

It should give you an idea of what your child may need as they move into adulthood.

Some common life skills include:

  1. Communication: the ability to effectively express oneself and listen actively
  2. Critical thinking: the ability to analyze and evaluate information and make sound decisions
  3. Problem-solving: the ability to identify and solve problems using creative and practical solutions
  4. Decision-making: the ability to make informed choices and weigh the pros and cons of different options
  5. Time management: the ability to prioritize tasks, manage one’s schedule, and use time effectively
  6. Stress management: the ability to manage stress and maintain a healthy work-life balance
  7. Interpersonal skills: the ability to work well with others and maintain positive relationships
  8. Leadership: the ability to lead and motivate others toward a common goal
  9. Financial management: the ability to manage money effectively and make informed financial decisions
  10. Self-care: the ability to take care of one’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

There are many life skills that teenagers should learn to become independent, responsible, and successful adults.

The next step is to take these soft skills and think of how it plays out in real life. What concrete skill or example can you do that would demonstrate decision-making skills?

The answer–so many! From deciding on a restaurant, grocery store, or even a “what should I do next” decision, the possibilities are endless.

A woman is engaging in chores that teach executive functioning by putting clothes into a washing machine.
Teens should be doing chores around the house.

Teenage Chores that Build Executive Functioning Skills

Engaging teenagers in chores can be an effective way to develop and reinforce various executive function skills.

Executive function skills are cognitive processes that help individuals regulate their behavior, make plans, solve problems, and achieve goals. Here are some executive function skills that can be nurtured through doing chores:

  1. Planning and Organization:
    • Task Planning: Breaking down chores into smaller steps helps teens learn how to plan and organize tasks.
    • Time Management: Setting time limits for chores encourages teenagers to manage their time effectively.
  2. Working Memory:
    • Remembering Instructions: Following chore instructions requires using working memory to remember what needs to be done.
    • Recalling Steps: Remembering the steps involved in a specific chore helps develop working memory skills.
  3. Inhibitory Control:
    • Impulse Control: Waiting to finish one step before moving on to the next and resisting the urge to rush through chores enhance inhibitory control.
    • Distraction Management: Focusing on the task at hand while avoiding distractions builds inhibitory control.
  4. Flexibility and Adaptability:
    • Adapting to Changes: Adjusting to unexpected changes in chores, such as using a different cleaning tool, helps teenagers develop flexibility and adaptability.
  5. Initiation and Task Persistence:
    • Getting Started: Beginning a chore requires initiation, and completing it teaches task persistence.
    • Overcoming Challenges: Facing difficulties during chores and persevering until completion builds resilience and persistence.
  6. Emotional Control:
    • Frustration Tolerance: Chores may sometimes be challenging, teaching teenagers to manage frustration and work through difficulties.
    • Delayed Gratification: Waiting for the reward of a finished chore promotes the ability to delay gratification.
  7. Goal Setting:
    • Setting Chore Goals: Helping teens set achievable goals for completing chores encourages the development of goal-setting skills.
  8. Self-Monitoring:
    • Checking Work: Encouraging teens to review their completed chores helps them develop self-monitoring skills.
    • Identifying Mistakes: Recognizing and correcting mistakes during chores enhances self-monitoring.
  9. Cognitive Flexibility:
    • Switching Between Tasks: Engaging in different chores requires cognitive flexibility as the teen switches between activities.
  10. Responsibility and Accountability:
    • Taking Ownership: Assigning specific chores and holding teenagers accountable fosters a sense of responsibility.
    • Learning Consequences: Understanding the consequences of not completing chores helps them develop a sense of accountability.

By incorporating these elements into the chore routine, parents and caregivers can provide valuable opportunities for teens to develop and strengthen their executive function skills.

A man teaching executive functioning through chores with a shovel.
Some chores will also serve as sensory input or “heavy work” for a teen.

Life Skills that Start as Chores

Every skill set has to start someplace. Many life skills are chores that adults perform daily.

Again, what you teach a child or expect them to do will vary based on their current skill sets. I have a list of skills-based chores for kids in another article.

I put things like “sewing” which some parents may think is useless. True, not many people sew anymore.

But, a teenager or young adult should know what to do if they are headed out to a job interview or a wedding, and they end up with a missing button or tear in their pants.

So, while a child may not need specific sewing skills, they need to have the problem-solving skills of what to do in a clothing emergency, such as those I listed above.

Many of these skills may appear ableist when you first read them.

But to live independently, or with supported living, some adaptation of these skill sets will be necessary. For example, reading and writing are on the list.

If your child cannot read or write, what will they do if they return to their apartment with a note stuck to the front door? What will they do with the mail they receive?

Supported living will require accommodations for skill deficits such as these.

Chores that Build Life Skills

  1. Basic cooking skills: Think of it as food acquisition skills. Not everyone can, nor should they, cook like Julia Child. But depending on their skill level and independence, they need to know how to acquire food for sustenance.
  2. Cleaning and organizing skills
  3. Budgeting and financial management skills: Supported decision-making is great! Again, it’s about maximizing independence.
  4. Basic sewing skills
  5. Basic car maintenance skills or transportation skills. Does your child know how to safely and efficiently get from Point A to Point B independently? Or who to call if their car breaks down?
  6. Home maintenance skills or the ability to secure help
  7. First aid and CPR skills (or knowing how to ask for help in an emergency)
  8. Basic computer skills, and I don’t just mean our phones or devices. What about an ATM? Self-checkout at the store? Can your child do those?
  9. Public speaking skills, including the ability to ask for help, speak out, or speak up when necessary.
  10. Basic gardening skills, if living independently. This may be something like removing leaves from the front steps in the autumn for safety reasons.
  11. Reading, writing, and grammar will vary based on the level of independent living; can the child leave a note for the landlord to tell them that there is no hot water? Or that something is broken?
  12. Basic research skills: Yes, we do research as adults! Is that store open on Sundays? What eye doctors are near me? Where can I get a flu vaccine? All of those questions require research.

Executive Functioning Skills that are Life Skills.

The more I learn about executive functions, the more astounded I get.

  1. Time management skills
  2. Interpersonal skills
  3. Empathy and emotional intelligence skills (to safely navigate social situations)
  4. Cultural awareness and sensitivity skills
  5. Interviewing skills
  6. Networking skills
  7. Collaboration and teamwork skills (if it’s required of them)
  8. Negotiation skills
  9. Adaptability and flexibility skills
  10. Creativity and innovation skills
  11. Problem-solving and decision-making skills
  12. Resilience and perseverance skills
  13. Public speaking and presentation skills
  14. Media literacy and digital citizenship skills
  15. Time management and organization skills
  16. Communication skills
  17. Critical thinking skills
  18. Problem-solving skills
  19. Decision-making skills
  20. Leadership skills
  21. Goal-setting and planning skills (have them do a vision statement)
  22. Project management skills
  23. Active listening skills
  24. Conflict resolution skills: This may be as simple as deciding what to watch on TV at night.
  25. Stress management skills
  26. Self-care skills
  27. Mindfulness and meditation skills

By learning these life skills through chores, kids can gain the knowledge, confidence, and independence they need to navigate the challenges of adulthood and achieve their goals.

If you are looking for a printable chore chart, I have one in that link. It’s also customizable so you can add in the specifics of what your teen is doing.

Chores that help teach teenage life skills and executive functions.

Executive Functioning Skills for Kids

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