Looking Back

12 Important Life Skills Dads Wish They Taught Their Kids Sooner

There’s always more to teach.

Originally Published: 

How to “square up” failure. How to use tools properly. How to take care of your home. When we asked a group of dads about the life skill they wish they taught their kids sooner, the answers revealed a simple truth: there’s always more to teach and, looking back, some of the things that are most useful are the ones we might not think to focus on until we see how useful it would’ve been. From the obvious (teaching more financial literacy) to the aspirational (cultivating an appreciation for exercise at an early age) to the oh-damn-I-wish-I-demonstrated-that-better (how to forgive someone), here are the life skills these men wish they taught their kids sooner.

1. How To Make Exercise A Big Part of Your Life

“I wish we had modeled and practiced a daily workout regimen so our kids would have gained this healthy habit for life. Though my wife and I are generally healthy, we have not modeled or developed our own workout routine, and so neither have our kids. A close friend of mine has done that, and the effects are evident throughout the entire family. He and his wife engage their kids to work out regularly, including daily push-ups, sit-ups, and stuff like that on a regular basis. Since they are ingraining this habit as a lifestyle early on, I’m sure their kids will continue this healthy practice for the rest of their lives.” - Mark, 52, Georgia

2. How To Take Good Care of Your Home

“I was raised not even knowing how to fold my clothes or boil some water, and my life got completely destroyed when my mom passed away when I was 19 years old. I had no knowledge of how to take care of the home my parents worked so hard to give me. It’s important to know how to clean, maintain, and repair your home. It’s the most important place in your life. If you cannot take care of the place where you live and sleep and eat, then you cannot take care of many important things. I’m trying to teach my kids this concept, and it’s definitely something we all would have benefited from learning sooner.” - Garrett, California

“If you cannot take care of the place where you live and sleep and eat, then you cannot take care of many important things.”

3. How To Forgive Someone

“Carrying the emotional weight of a grudge slows our ability to truly grow. It’s better to forgive not only for the benefit of the person who offended you, but also for yourself. When I was young I held onto old painful moments for far too long. While we shouldn’t easily excuse every painful offensive act visited upon us, we should quickly move towards relieving the pain of the experience in order to form a new relationship with ourselves. And no matter how small we view it, our wrongdoing will be measured. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that it’s naive to believe that we won’t someday be offended by others. I'd like to teach my kids about this lesson because I think it serves as a reminder that someday we’ll all need to be forgiven for something.” - Germany, 38, New Jersey

4. How To Manage Finances

“The life skill I wish I had taught my kids a lot sooner is financial literacy. Specifically, I regret not focusing on teaching them about budgeting and managing money from an early age. Early exposure to budgeting and money management would have provided them with essential skills to effectively handle their finances. They would have developed a sense of financial independence and responsibility by learning the importance of earning and managing their own money, rather than relying solely on others or accumulating debt. By exposing my children to financial concepts and real-life financial scenarios, I would have fostered their ability to analyze situations, think strategically, and make sound financial judgments. These skills are transferable to various aspects of life and contribute to overall personal and professional success.” - Adam, 45, New York

5. How To “Square Up” Failure

“Just recently, I created this concept of squaring up failure. So much of the time, we look at failure as a negative. But, in math, when you square a negative, it becomes a positive. Not sure how or why, but it does. I fear that throughout my daughter’s life, I made failure out to be a negative without emphasizing the learning that comes when we square it up. It could be through a painful review process or even through forgiveness. And because failure is often a direct result of having taken risk, by having overemphasized the negative of failure, I fear that I may have kept her from some unique successes that could have come from her risking more. I have taught her this now, but I wish I would have taught it a lot stronger, much sooner.” - Bret, 60, California

“By having overemphasized the negative of failure, I fear that I may have kept her from some unique successes that could have come from her risking more.”

6. How To Use Tools

“I wish I'd taught my kids how to use tools sooner. I am a do-it-yourself kind of person. Unfortunately, I take that too far and tend to do projects by myself, and only by myself. I like to power through, get it done quickly, and then sit back and enjoy reveling in the glory of a completed project. Kids don't exactly have that same mentality. My son likes to start by helping, and then he gets excited and tries to screw together anything he can find. It's innocent and he's having fun, but it also slows me down. I wish I had more patience when he was younger and let him explore how each tool worked without feeling like it was an impediment. Now, when I do a project, I try to be more laid back, slow down, and just enjoy our time together as a bonding experience so that I can teach him something as well.” - Kris, 39, Alabama

“I wish I had more patience when my son was younger and let him explore how each tool worked without feeling like it was an impediment.”

7. How To Listen

“I mean really, truly listen. My kids are almost legal adults and I see them tune out a lot when they’re being spoken to by their mother or siblings or anyone else. I don’t mean that they’re rolling their eyes when they’re being told to do something. I mean someone is sharing something with them that they asked about and their eyes glaze over or they turn their attention to their phone. It’s really important to learn how to listen intently and take in what someone is saying — in personal relationships, at work, and in the world in general — and I wish I spent more time practicing that skill with them. If you’re not listening, you’re not learning, and you’re not able to help if someone is sharing something painful or important.” — Travis, 47, South Carolina

8. How To Thoughtfully Express Feelings

“I'm proud of where my kids are with their emotional IQs, but wish I would have done more sooner with regard to encouraging them to express themselves. I grew up in an environment uncomfortable with emotions and I still struggle to express and be in the moment. I give credit to my wife for encouraging our kids to speak openly about their feelings, and while I said all those words too, I realize that I wasn't necessarily setting the example in my behavior. We've had to coach our kids to be genuine in their feelings, and I'm thankful that today, even at 9 and 7, when they have an argument they can both tell each other honestly how they are feeling and they listen to each other. I wish I had more to teach them in this area, but this is one of those things where I'm humble enough to realize that in many ways I have more to learn from them than they do from me.” - Jim, 49, Colorado

9. How To Adapt

“I have three boys, and the number one skill I wish I would’ve taught them sooner is adaptability. Change is occurring at a faster and faster rate, so young adults need to foster better resilience and flexibility in order to adapt to what life throws at them. Inherent to becoming adaptable is a better relationship with uncertainty, and the ability to better estimate it. Our kids will change jobs more and need to adapt along with technology and new ways of working that we can't even imagine yet. I have changed my own career six times and taken advantage of opportunities to build businesses because I maintained a flexible and adaptable mindset. I see a big lack of adaptability in many adults today, so teaching such a skill to my kids earlier on would’ve set them up for success more effectively.” - Mike, 42, Wisconsin

“I see a big lack of adaptability in many adults today, so teaching such a skill to my kids earlier on would’ve set them up for success more effectively.”

10. How To Develop Strong Work Ethic

“I wish that I had spent more time developing my children's work ethic. I have three children who are now adults and as I look back on their early years, I spent lots of time with them playing, building snowmen, watching Barney, going to birthday parties, and all of the wonderful stuff that creates family memories. But I do wish that I had spent more time developing their working skills. I think it's important for children to develop the value of hard work, especially in today's world of entertainment and leisure. More time on the work ethic would include using chore charts, working alongside the kids, and viewing work with enthusiasm.” - Reed, 66, Florida

11. How To Prioritize Substance Over Style

“One crucial life lesson that I wish I had imparted to my daughter much earlier is the importance of substance over appearance. I’ve always believed that what lies beneath the surface is infinitely more important than how things appear externally. As a young girl, my daughter was naturally drawn towards shiny, attractive things. From pretty toys to colorful clothing and flashy gadgets, if it looked good, she wanted it. I realized over time that this was more than just a childish fascination. As she grew older, this propensity towards things that appeared attractive extended to people and relationships, making her vulnerable to disappointments and superficial relationships. In retrospect, I believe teaching her to appreciate substance over appearance from a younger age would have influenced her perception in a more beneficial way, fostering stronger, more genuine personal relationships and a healthier self-image.” - Maurizio, 41, Valencia, Spain

12. How To Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries does not only relate to my kids’ interactions with others, but also with their own time and commitments. In a world where we are constantly connected and demands on our time are ever-increasing, the ability to say ‘no’ and protect personal time and space is invaluable. I realized the importance of this skill when I noticed my children struggling to balance schoolwork, hobbies, and social commitments. They were overcommitting themselves and feeling stressed as a result. I wish I had introduced the concept of setting personal boundaries sooner, as it's a critical skill for managing stress and maintaining mental health.” - Jeremiah, 43, Georgia

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