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Giving Your Child Life Skills to Succeed

How To Point Your Preteen Toward Future Success

Ask the average preteen to download songs to his Ipod and the job is done in record time. Need to create a simple Web page? No problem for a 12-year-old. Yet when it comes to basic skills valuable throughout life, many preteens need a little help. Of course it's important to know how to present a middle school PowerPoint presentation on the export crops of Peru. More important, though, is the ability to have eye contact with adults, speak in full sentences and even use the phone book.

A Word of Caution

When you suggest your son or daughter compare prices for a new pair of shoes, they'll likely roll their eyes and moan, "Why do I have to do this silly stuff?" Simply roll your eyes in return and say, "It's my duty as a parent to teach you these things." Some parents have tied these experiences in with a little cash incentive.

One mother told her son he could earn $25 over spring break. The mother assigned one experience per day. As soon as her son completed the task, Mom handed over $5.

One summer, my 12-year-old daughter complained she was too young to get a job and earn money for the designer school clothes she desperately needed. We came up with a plan that earned Trina money while also teaching her skills she still uses today, 20 years later. I gave her a list of 15 tasks to accomplish during a two-week period. It was up to her to select 10 activities and complete them by a specific deadline. If those "life skills" tasks were satisfactorily completed, she'd receive a designated clothing allowance. (We were going to buy her clothes anyway, but this way she felt as if she earned the money.) The activities gave some structure to her summer vacation and also taught her about time management and meeting deadlines.

Practice Makes Perfect

The following are some activities to help your preteen gain important skills needed in everyday life situations.

Write a thank you letter.

Yes, an actual handwritten letter on real paper that goes inside an envelope. The average 11-year-old has no idea how to address an envelope. Employers say only 5 percent of job applicants write a thank you note after an interview. Your preteen isn't applying for a job, but they can learn the importance of writing a thank you letter. How about thanking a soccer coach, violin teacher or even a scout leader? Your child learns the mechanics of writing a letter, and the letter's recipient gets a pleasant handwritten surprise.

Lean how to use the phone book.

What's the difference between the white and yellow pages? Sit down with your preteen and ask, "Let's say my skin breaks out in pimples. How would I find the phone number of a skin care doctor?" See if your child knows the term "dermatologist." What happens when your daughter looks up "doctor." (Doctors are usually listed under "physicians.") How do you find out if a local pizza parlor delivers pizzas? Does your son want a pair of high-priced tennis shoes? Have him look up the number of three athletic shoe stores and ask for the prices of his desired shoes. For some children, this can be a daunting task. Offer encouragement and praise.

Think of others.

Many preteens are naturally self-absorbed. Show them there's a world beyond school lunch catastrophes. Help your son or daughter find a place to do volunteer work. Can she collect old newspapers to donate to a Humane Society shelter for puppy pens? Would your budding actor be interested in performing at a senior center? What if your daughter helps with preschool story time? You're not looking for full-time volunteer work. Volunteering a few hours a month helps children see that their skills and talents are valuable to others. One 9-year-old went to several hotels, asking for donations of small bottles of shampoo and soaps. She put them in small resalable bags and donated them to a homeless shelter.

Speak in full sentences when talking to adults.

Tired of having your preteen answer your questions with a grunt or "whatever"? Incorporate some public speaking skills into everyday conversation. Remember when your pre-\teen was an adorable preschooler that occasionally whined? "Mommmmmyyy, I dooooon't waaaant to goooo toooo beeeed." Like most parents you replied, "I can't understand you when you whine. Talk to me in a regular voice and I will listen."

The next time your grownup preschooler answers you with a one-word answer, repeat your mantra, "I need you to answer in a full sentence before I decide if I'm driving you to Ashley's house." Role play situations that help children learn how to give polite replies to adults. When Aunt Martha visits and asks, "What grade are you in, sweetie?" have your daughter reply with, "I'm in fourth grade now, Aunt Martha."

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