Bigger Kids

30 things kids should know how to do by 12

How many life skills on the list has your tween mastered?

30 things kids should know how to do by 12

Photo: iStockphoto

We reached out to our readers and social-media followers asking what skills a (typically developing) kid should have under their belt by the time they're 12 years old. Well, you sure didn’t disappoint. The list is long, so don’t despair if your 12-year-old hasn’t mastered every skill yet—just make the remaining milestones their #BigKidGoals.

Cook for themselves

Not all the time! But they should have some skills. Domestic Goddess and mom Nigella Lawson had her kids practice and perfect one dish at a time until they had a repertoire of five to leave home with. Start kids with simpler meals that they enjoy preparing and eating. Work them up to more complicated dishes.

Photo of a group of children having fun during cooking class with a chef AleksandarNakic/ Getty Images

Do their own laundry

This one isn't just to help their parents. It also provides kids with a sense of autonomy and privacy following nighttime occurrences like menstrual leaks and wet dreams. Parents can start training their kids in laundry tasks when the children are as young as 2. They can sort by color, and, by the age of 10, can be in charge of running the machines with supervision.

Childhood is also a great time to teach kids about what to look for in the best laundry detergents.

Lovely little girl unloading the washing machine while helping her mom with laundry in the kitchen at home. Images By Tang Ming Tung/ Getty Images


Use public transit

Practise with your kid so they know some basic routes and understand how to read a subway or bus route map before going solo. Brainstorm what to do if they accidentally miss their stop or get on the wrong bus or train. And teach them to sit or stand as close to the driver as possible and to ask for help if they feel unsafe.

Kids travelling to school by bus or tram. Girl is checking her smartphone Imgorthand/ Getty Images

Get to and from school on their own.

The simplest way is if the family lives close to school. Parents can walk their kids there and pick them up. Over the years, the kids can walk with buddies instead and experiment with bikes and scooters. It's trickier if the kids do not live within biking distance, but they can learn who to ask for rides or how to use rideshare.

Not sure how you feel about this? Consider placing an Apple AirTag in their backpacks so you can track comings and goings.

Rear view of school children with backpacks behind their backs walking to school together along the park AnnaStills/ Getty Images

Do a grocery run

And calculate the change they should be getting back from the cashier. Show kids how to make lists and, if they're interested, how to search for the best deals. Explain how stores generally are organized and show kids math shortcuts to calculate change more quickly.

If you don't love the idea of them heading to the store, let them help you pick household items online. Plus, they can sign up for a discounted Prime account and get loads of free stuff from Amazon.

A mother and son buying some groceries in their local supermarket together. Tom Werner/ Getty Images


Have non-electronic fun.

"I'm bored!" many kids lament when they don't have their tablets or smartphones. Expose kids to blocks, books, the great outdoors, animals and other kids to play with. Have them try different activities, such as karate or cooking, to see which classes they might like to take.

Lovely little sisters having jump rope games joyfully on the lawn in the park Images By Tang Ming Tung/ Getty Images

Watch over a younger child for brief stints.

(With or without an adult in the room.) This type of caretaking develops a sense of responsibility and builds critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills and empathy. It also fosters kids' confidence in themselves and their ability to handle life. Some kids need a little help to understand what to do at first, and that's fine.

Babysitter helping girls with homework Hero Images/ Getty Images

Maintain a calendar.

By 12, your kid can keep track of their own social engagements, field trips, assignments, and loved ones' birthdays; thank you very much. It doesn't matter much if the calendar is print, electronic or something else, as long as the kid can keep track of everything. It could be helpful to learn how to maintain different types of calendars, though.

Girl with calendar kate_sept2004/ Getty Images


Display basic good manners.

Even in the computer age, it's vital to be able to look someone in the eye when meeting them and offer a firm yet friendly handshake. Other good manners are saying "Please," "Thank you," and "Excuse me" to show consideration for others. Engaging in small talk, holding a conversation, and asking other people questions are essential, too.

smiling mother looking her young daughter enjoying the meal she prepares at dining table at home. prpicturesproduction/ Getty Images

Show compassion for others—human and animal.

That means putting themselves in a friend's or stranger’s shoes and standing up in safe and effective ways for the bullied or abused. Parents can help by modeling these actions themselves and showing their children respect. If parents try to pit kids against one another, for example, to see who can fold the clothes fastest, that could backfire on the compassion front. A bit of friendly competition is great, but be sure to encourage good sportsmanship.

Little boy kisses the dog in nose on the window. Friendship, care, happiness, new year concept. ulkas/ Getty Images

Take responsibility for basic household chores.

Kids without significant physical challenges can, at this age, shovel snow, take out garbage and recycling, and load the dishwasher—properly—for starters! Other common chores include walking the pets, taking care of the cat litter and keeping common areas clean. Sweeping, vacuuming and mopping are pre-teen-friendly tasks, too.

Tween girls doing dishes in modern kitchen MoMo Productions/ Getty Images


Develop a relationship with the natural world.

Start with classic scouting skills like making a campfire and identifying a few local birds, animals, and plants—especially poison ivy! Graduate to skills like telling the time by the position of the sun in the sky and using a compass. Parents and kids can explore different areas, such as forests, beaches, mountains, deserts and jungles.

Children balancing on tree trunks Imgorthand/ Getty Images

Use the phone.

Not to text—to speak. It'll make Grandma's day! Phone practice also enhances children's general conversational skills and sparks their independence. They'll know how to call friends themselves and get a head start on an important aspect of business etiquette. Show kids how to use both smartphones and landlines.

Boy playing alone on smart phone in living room Alistair Berg/ Getty Images

Keep a pet or plant alive.

Caring for another living thing teaches responsibility and compassion. Kids also learn that most living things need to eat, exercise and use the bathroom. Caring for a pet offers real-life science, social studies and psychology lessons. Hammy the hamster may also provide a child's first valuable experience of grief and loss, which brings us to...

Close up of a father teaching his son about plants and how to water them Marko Geber/ Getty Images


Understand the basics of what happens during death, sex and birth.

Age-appropriate books for kids of various ages are a good start, but there's no substitute for parents talking frankly and compassionately with their children. Talk about the natural life cycles of household pets, plants and family members. Acknowledge and embrace grief instead of ignoring it and trying to regulate it.

Girl sitting with book and looking thoughtful out of window Klaus Vedfelt/ Getty Images

Cope with getting lost.

You should draw up a plan with them, which should include an emergency meeting place, a list of local police stations and other safe places to go to, such as libraries, doctor’s offices, security and information desks; phone numbers to call.

Adorable little girl is crying in the mall Sinenkiy/ Getty Images

React in an emergency.

Even little kids can dial 911, but by 12, your kid should be able to locate a first aid kit and administer some very basic first aid; use the fire extinguisher, and calmly douse a grease fire with the pan’s lid or a box of baking soda—never water.

Girl sticking plaster onto mothers hand Zero Creatives/ Getty Images



Knowing how to swim, tread water, and float on their back may save a kid's life one day. Invest in those Red Cross badges. More than that, have kids swim in different types of water: pools, lakes, rivers and oceans, if they're available. Each represents its own type of adventure and a slightly different set of swimming skills.

Happy kids swimming underwater in pool Imgorthand/ Getty Images

Cultivate their own opinions.

OK, most kids don't need parental nudging to voice criticisms, but tweens should be articulating their opinions, feelings and views with solid arguments to back them up. It's also good for kids to know their audience and how to tailor these natural skills of persuasion based on who they are talking to. While it's tempting to give them heck for knowing which parent to approach for different requests, be impressed with their problem-solving skills, too.

Shot of a mother and daughter at home gradyreese/ Getty Images

Manage their allowance.

By 12, kids should have their own bank account. And for short-term money management, they can use the three-jar method of SAVE, SPEND, and SHARE. It’s also time to start chipping in toward their own cell phone or saving up for the little extras they want.

Girl stacking pennies on counter Martin Barraud/ Getty Images


Engage with their community.

A kid this age can make themselves useful as a volunteer or even spearhead a fundraiser. For the best outcomes, encourage involvement with passions that the kids have already fostered. A kid who loves animals, for example, might enjoy helping with an event related to the animal shelter more than they'd enjoy refereeing a youth sporting event.

Children's sports team charity drive for donations, local disaster relief. fstop123/ Getty Images

Get themselves up and ready for school on time.

Bonus points for packing their own lunch and making their own bed before they race out the door. Show kids the value of planning the night before, especially prepping lunch, checking the weather forecast, laying out their clothes and setting their alarm.

A 7 years old boy is ready to go to school Catherine Delahaye/ Getty Images

Take responsibility for their homework.

Let the kid paint their own damn baking soda volcano. If kids forget about an assignment or project and turn to you for rescue, tell them, "Nope." They can certainly face the incoming consequences themselves. That teaches them to remember the importance of responsibility rather than how easy it is to get their parents running in to "help" them.

Young boy making notes while using laptop Hans Neleman/ Getty Images


Pack a suitcase.

You can let even very young children pick out their own outfits for an overnight trip. Show kids how you pack your suitcase and that you include essentials such as a toothbrush, hairbrush and extra pairs of underwear. Explain how to fold or roll clothes without wrinkling them and how to maximize the space in a suitcase.

Young girl packing to go on holiday Justin Paget/ Getty Images

Calculate a 15 percent tip.

(Short-changed diner staff everywhere will thank you!) A simple trick is to figure 10 percent and then half of that amount. Add them together. Kids can do this mentally most of the time, but don't criticize if they want to use their smartphones for more complicated bills. At least they're doing it themselves and not relying on you.

This little accountant just hit the jackpot and earned ten billion dollars for his company. Plenty of room for copy. RichVintage/ Getty Images

Clean their own room.

No dirty dish- or sock-stashing under the bed allowed. Kids should know how to ask if they need more shelves or organizational aids. By the age of 10, show the kids how to dust, run the vacuum and change their bedsheets. Very young children can put up their own toys and clear the floor.

A thirteen-year-old making her bed in her room at home. Petri Oeschger/ Getty Images


Write cursive and sign their names.

Even if you have to home-school them on these ones! Schools don't teach cursive like they used to, but it's a useful skill for writing and reading. Plenty of folks use cursive, and historical documents are full of this method of writing. Introduce one cursive letter at a time.

Doing homework Phynart Studio/ Getty Images

Fix a flat bike tire.

Every kid with their own two wheels should also own a rubber repair kit. That way, kids remain as independent as possible and don't run to their parents for help with things they should be able to take care of themselves. Kids who can fix flat bike tires are likely to turn into adults who can change car tires.

Sad boy looking at his flat bike tire, kid staring at the bicycle with the broken wheel stefanamer/ Getty Images

Use a pad or tampon.

(Whether they've started their period or not.) Boys should also understand the basics of menstruation so they can support their friends and siblings if need be.

Girls who know how to use a pad or tampon are as prepared as possible for when their period starts—or when their friend's does. There's no panicking and running around and wondering what to do (or less of it, anyway). We love these sustainable period products for growing bodies, by the way.

And, finally, according to one pithy reader:

“Make a decent gin and tonic.”

Just kidding!

Sick girl daughter complaining worried mother of stomachache, having symptoms of appendicitis Dima Berlin/ Getty Images

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This article was originally published on Jul 07, 2022

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Signe is a freelance writer and editor, food specialist, culinary instructor and consultant living in Port Hope, Ontario. More of her work can be found in publications like MSN Canada, The Toronto Star, and Toronto Life.