Teach your child those big life skills

From learning to ride a bike through to counting, mums, dads and experts share tips on how to teach your child those key life skills.


Teach your child to clean her teeth

You should clean your child’s teeth until she’s 8 years old, but you can encourage her to get involved long before this. “Let her choose her toothbrush and use a children’s toothpaste with a mild flavour,” advises Janet Clarke of the British Dental Association. Let her watch you brush your teeth and she’ll probably want to copy you. Give her a go, then brush the bits she’s missed.


“Joseph has global development delay, which means his development is slower, and he has a phobia about things around his face. But we do encourage him to hold his own toothbrush and put it in his mouth when he’ll accept it,” says Yolanda, 33, mum to Joseph, 5, and Benjamin, 3.

Teach your child to count

Active counting songs are a great way to introduce numbers to your toddler, and counting objects in books will reinforce her understanding.

“Introduce numbers in to everyday activities such as baking or shopping,” suggests Dawn Markham of the National Day Nurseries Association. “But also use puzzles and play to introduce concepts such as big/small or empty/full, which will help her understand value and patterns.”

“Ella and I count each stair when we go up and down. If I make it into a song, she finds it even more fun,” says Siobhan, 25, mum to Ella, 2.

Teach your child to dress herself

It can be frustrating when it takes your child half an hour to put a T-shirt on, but try to resist the temptation to correct her efforts.

“If children dressing themselves in the morning is too stressful due to lack of time, play dressing up games later in the day instead,” says Dee Snudden of Parents as First Teachers. “Children learn best through repetition – so if putting on her own coat becomes a regular part of your routine, she’s most likely to master it.”

“Mornings are always a rush, but I’ve bought Tyler some pyjamas that have buttons so he can practise doing them up at bedtime when we’ve got more time,” says Maggie, 43, mum to Tyler, 3.

Teach your child to ride a bike

“You can’t really teach a child how to ride: what you have to do is give her safe opportunities to feel the balance needed for herself,” says Daniel Messer of online bike and toy retailer Playmotion. “The best way is a learner bike – one without pedals – which gives her a chance to find the equilibrium. If you already have a bike, take the stabilisers off – they can put a child off balancing – and ideally remove the pedals as well.

“Jenni used to find cycling difficult in our garden as it wasn’t big enough for her to build up speed, so I take her to our local park where she can keep going in a straight line for a longer distance,” says Terry, 42, dad to Jenni, 4, and Rebecca, 2

Teach your child to have road sense

Your young child can’t judge the speed and distance of vehicles, but by setting a good example, establishing basic rules and engaging her in what you’re doing, you can introduce her to the basics of road safety.

“Chat to her about what dangers you see and what you are doing to stay safe when you’re out and about,” suggests Duncan Vernon, road safety officer at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

“If Jake messes about when we’re near the road, I tell him he has to hold on to the buggy until he’s calmed down,” says Phyllis, 41, mum to Jake, 4, and Sebastian, 5 months.

Its important to teach your toddler life skills from an early age

Teach your child to swim

“Your child will learn a lot more from frequent, short trips to the swimming pool than long, infrequent ones,” says Lee Robinson of the Swimming Teachers Association.

“Bring your toddler into the water by holding him close: once he knows you’ll protect him in the water, he’ll feel more at ease. Then have fun with him: use toys, flotation aids, songs and games to boost his confidence and he will soon learn to relax, float, breathe and co-ordinate movements that are the foundations of good swimming,” advises Lee.

“Theo started with armbands, but he wanted to be like everyone else so he took them off and jumped in. At the start I caught him each time, but I gradually moved further away and he had the confidence to basically teach himself to swim,” says Robert, dad to Tho, 3.

Teach your child to write and recognise her name

Giving your child lots of opportunities to experiment with crayons and paints will encourage her writing.

“She can also practise the shapes she needs to form the letters of her name, such as swirls and zigzags, in different textures such as sand and shaving foam,” suggests Dawn Markham of the National Day Nurseries Association.

“To help her recognise her name, have it on everyday things, such as her cup, so she learns to associate it with things that belong to her,” says Dawn.

“We do lots of pretend play involving writing, such as creating shopping lists or being waitresses taking orders in a café,” says Natasha, 34, mum to Molly, 4.

Teach your child to use cutlery

Children learn most by copying, so demonstrate how you want your toddler to eat. Introduce cutlery early on – but accept she’s likely to fling more food on the floor than in her mouth at first. Resist telling her off for using her fingers, but praise her when she uses her cutlery.

“Unscrewing lids and tipping water can help your child learn to use cutlery, as they involve the same wrist movement that’s needed to feed themselves,” suggests Dee Snudden of Parents as First Teachers.

“I’m happy for Matthew to use his fingers, but he has plastic toddler cutlery to get him used to a knife and fork when he’s in the mood,” says Elliot, 35, dad to Matthew, 17 months.

Teach your child to share toys

“Sharing is a really difficult concept for small children to get their heads around,” says Pam Holtom of Parents As First Teachers. “It makes sense with something like sweets, where they can all have some. But if you’re talking about a bicycle, does that mean one child gets the wheels and another the handlebars? With this kind of sharing, it’s much more constructive to suggest they take turns: they can understand this much better.”


“The worst time is when children come to our house and want to play with Joseph’s toys. I’ve found that the best thing is to try and distract him while sharing out the toys,” says Ali, 34, mum to Joseph, 3, and Connor, 14 months

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