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Skills Children Should Learn Early
A list of the skills children need to learn in the 21st Century. They include Communication skills and critical thinking skills.

Added By: DADAD Staff

November 7, 2023

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These are the skills children should learn early to give them the best chance to thrive in the 21st Century.

Effective Communication

A fundamental skill children should learn early is communication.

Fortunately, there is a lot a parent, grandparent, sibling, and/or teacher can do to help a child learn to communicate well.

Also, fortunately, it is relatively easy for parents to help a child learn to communicate well. They simply have to communicate well themselves. If the parents communicate well, there is a great chance the child will learn to communicate well.

And one of the best communication skills children should learn early is being an active listener.

Take the time to really listen to your teen – no interrupting, no judging. 

Show you’re genuinely interested in their thoughts, feelings, dreams. You’ll create an environment where they feel valued and understood, bringing you closer.


Babies cry. Probably to alert their caregivers something is wrong. They don’t know how to solve the problem so they cry.

The baby is completly dependent on others to make them

Their emotion regulation systems, however, are not well developed at birth.

Although babies engage in some self-soothing behaviors like thumb sucking and twirling their hair when they are upset, they cannot develop advanced self-soothing skills by themselves to handle difficult situations independently 3 .

Unless toddlers receive adequate developmental support, maladaptive self-soothing methods may develop, leading to later problematic behavior, such as oppositional behavior (children) or alcoholism (adults). 

Severe anxiety disorder in childhood can lead to panic disorder and other anxiety disorders in adulthood 4 .

Thus, self-soothing is essential for children, not only to fall asleep in the middle of the night or calm themselves in tantrums but also to develop effective coping skills that are useful throughout their lives.

Self-soothing is a form of emotion regulation that involves monitoring, evaluating, and modifying emotional reactions to calm oneself in distress. 

It primarily reduces negative emotions and stabilizes emotional arousal through self-directed behaviors and internal processes 1 . 

It is the act of calming and comforting oneself to reduce stress and anxiety to feel better. 

Rather than addressing emotions before they arise, self-soothing practices regulate them after they arise 2 .

Importance Of Self Soothing To Toddlers

Maladaptive Toddler Self-Soothing Behaviors

Here are some examples of toddler self-soothing behaviors that are maladaptive. 

They tend to be repetitive behaviors.

Hair twirling



Object ( , pacifier)sucking

Fingernail biting

Object (e.g. 

pencil) biting

Cuticle picking

Skin picking

Nose picking

Hair pulling

Head banging

Skin cutting



How To Teach Toddlers Self-Soothing Techniques

Teaching babies and toddlers adaptive self-soothing techniques involves the following steps.

Co-Regulate Before Self-Regulate

A child cannot self-teach self-soothing in a vacuum.

Without experiencing it, babies will not know how to invent soothing on their own.

Self-regulation, therefore, is not something babies learn or develop by themselves. 

They need teachers and partners.

Parental intervention is required for babies and children to learn adaptive self-regulation. 

As the first step, parents co-regulate with their children using warm, responsive interaction. 

They support, coach, and model to co-create a positive emotional state with the children 5 .

Don’t leave a crying baby or child to “learn to self-soothe”.

They learn by experiencing it, not inventing it.

Use Self-Soothing Techniques

Parents can use the following common self-soothing strategies to soothe a distressed baby or young child during co-regulation.

Redirect attention
In the early stages of arousal, a child’s attention may be redirected away from stress with some distraction.

Physical Touch
During infancy, contact comforts such as soothing touch and being hugged are crucial for easing distress 6 .
Physical touch can trigger the release of the hormone, oxytocin, which can activate the parasympathetic nervous system in the child to calm themselves 7 .

Rhythmic stimulation
The arousal of a baby’s stress response system can be reduced by continuous stimulation, such as rocking, swaddling, white noise, and the human heartbeat.

Sufficient duration and intensity
Depending on the developmental stage, the duration and intensity of stimulation for your child must be adequate and long enough to interrupt or diminish distress 8 .

Pay Attention To Cues

Having the right support at the right time is key to co-regulating.

A tuned-in caregiver can remove or lessen the impact of aggravating situations.

Paying close attention to cues and responding sensitively and consistently can go a long way toward preventing distress.

Observe the behavior to better recognize symptoms of predictable stress, such as tiredness, hunger, and boredom.

When your child shows signs of being irritated, comfort them in a consistent approach to help them alleviate the stress 9 .

Provide Sensitive, Responsive, And Consistent Care

Children don’t just learn how to self-soothe when distressed. 

Give-and-take interactions in everyday life that promote a secure attachment also contribute to emotional regulation.

Provide nurturing, consistent, and responsive parenting in daily interactions.

Responding to a young child’s need teaches them that they matter. 

Consistency teaches young children to trust others. 

Children learn how to connect with others reliably and joyfully when their parents are sensitive and nurturing.

Children are more likely to develop effective strategies and a sense of calm if they experience trust and form a secure attachment to their parents 10 .

When a child responds to the parent and the parent, in turn, responds to the child, a dialog begins, and a relationship forms.

The relationships we have with others often motivate us to change our behaviors, learn more about our feelings, and modify our emotions. 

Help Them Practice

Learning to self-soothe requires practice, just like any new skill.

Allow mild to moderate stress for them to practice their calming techniques.

To develop healthy coping skills, children need mild and moderate stress, positive coping models, and scaffolding appropriate to their age 11 .

They observe and explore their big emotions and expressions as their parents soothe, encourage, and relate to them in different ways.

Be Patient

Learning to self-sooth is a gradual process.

As children test ways to calm themselves, they learn through trial and error.

Often, caregivers feel distressed when their children are distressed or when they make mistakes. 

In response, they try to get rid of the feelings. 

But it’s okay to have feelings, even if they are distressing.

Be patient as our children learn and practice to perfect their coping methods.

In stressful situations, they still require help soothing and regulating, but as they grow older and master this important skill, they become less dependent on others.

Self-Soothing Parents

Model an effective form of self-regulation.

To co-regulate with children, parents must exercise their own regulatory skills. 

Demonstrate to your child how to manage strong emotions, such as overwhelm, anger, or burnout, in a healthy way. 

We do a better job supporting our children when we are calm and even-keeled.

When Can Babies Or Toddlers Self-Soothe

An infant’s ability to self-soothe depends on the baby’s temperament, the environment, and their parents’ responses to their distress, which are influenced by their cultural beliefs, mental health, and experiences growing up.

Here are the factors that can affect when toddlers can learn to self-soothe.

Baby’s Temperament

A child’s temperament determines how easily they can regulate themselves. 

Different temperaments affect how strongly children experience and express their emotions.

Stimuli such as light and noise trigger different responses in them.

They also manage attention, changes, and transitions differently. 

For example, babies who experience more intense emotions may have a hard time calming themselves. 

In contrast, those who are able to divert their attention from arousing stimuli tend to be more soothable and less affected by parents’ or others’ negative emotions 12 .


Adverse early environments can damage a child’s self-regulatory systems.

When children grow up under chronic stress, their stress-response system develops to adapt to dangerous and unpredictable situations.

The adaptations that allow children to grow up in adversity can impact their physical and emotional well-being and compromise their ability to self-soothe when they grow up.

Cultural Belief

Different cultures’ values, beliefs, and parenting practices influence how self-soothing is learned.

Baby’s cries are common among those who have not yet learned to self-soothe and it is a part of the normal development process.

Even though crying bouts are similar across cultures and their timing is similar, the duration of crying bouts is shorter when breastfeeding on demand and carrying babies are more common, indicating better self-soothing capabilities in these infants 13,14 .

Physical And Mental Health

Parents’ own emotions are an important determinaing factor.

Babies whose mothers suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety or physical health problems such as difficult pregnancies and traumatic births have more persistent crying at three months of age 15 .

Parent’s Own Childhood

A parent who was not treated sensitively and responsively as a child may have difficulty responding appropriately to their child’s emotional needs. 

Practices such as hugging a child in a tantrum may be considered socially inappropriate for these parents.

Instead of seeing their lack of regulation as a manifestation of what their child cannot communicate, these parents may view it as a personal threat. 

Such cases prevent them from providing their child with the care they need, thereby delaying their development.

Final Thoughts On Self-Comforting In Children

It is important to know that parents of toddlers play a crucial role in the development of self-soothing skills in young children.

The child doesn’t learn to respect his or her feelings if we react to their emotions with anger or impatience. 

When we respond to children’s sadness and anger with calm behavior, we help them accept these emotions and find an effective way to live with them.

Find out more on emotional regulation and social emotional development.


GraÄanin A, Bylsma LM, Vingerhoets AJJM. 

Is crying a self-soothing behavior? Front Psychol. 

Published online May 28, 2014. 


Gross JJ. 

The Emerging Field of Emotion Regulation: An Integrative Review. Review of General Psychology. 

Published online September 1998:271-299. 


Diener ML, Mangelsdorf SC, McHale JL, Frosch CA. 

Infants’ Behavioral Strategies for Emotion Regulation With Fathers and Mothers: Associations With Emotional Expressions and Attachment Quality. Infancy. 

Published online April 1, 2002:153-174. 


Milrod B, Markowitz JC, Gerber AJ, et al. 

Childhood Separation Anxiety and the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Adult Anxiety. AJP. 

Published online January 2014:34-43. 


Murray DW, Rosanbalm KD, Christopoulos C, Hamoudi A. Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress: Foundations for Understanding Self-Regulation from an Applied Developmental Perspective. 

OPRE Report # 2015-21; 2015.

Harlow HF. 

The nature of love. American Psychologist. 

Published online 1958:673-685. 


Dreisoerner A, Junker NM, van Dick R. 

The Relationship Among the Components of Self-compassion: A Pilot Study Using a Compassionate Writing Intervention to Enhance Self-kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness. J Happiness Stud. 

Published online January 19, 2020:21-47. 


Korner AF, Thoman EB. 

The Relative Efficacy of Contact and Vestibular-Proprioceptive Stimulation in Soothing Neonates. Child Development. 

Published online June 1972:443. 


Hiscock H, Jordan B. 


Problem crying in infancy. Medical Journal of Australia. 

Published online November 2004:507-512. 


Troxel WM, Trentacosta CJ, Forbes EE, Campbell SB. 

Negative emotionality moderates associations among attachment, toddler sleep, and later problem behaviors. Journal of Family Psychology. 

Published online February 2013:127-136. 


Wadsworth ME. 

Development of Maladaptive Coping: A Functional Adaptation to Chronic, Uncontrollable Stress. Child Dev Perspect. 

Published online April 1, 2015:96-100. 


Compas BE, Boyer MC. 

Coping and Attention: Implications for Child Health and Pediatric Conditions. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 

Published online October 2001:323-333. 



Infant crying patterns in Manali and London. Child Care Health Dev. 

Published online September 1994:323-337. 



Caregiving and Early Infant Crying in a Danish Community. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. 

Published online April 2004:91-98. 


Barr R. 

Colic and crying syndromes in infants. Pediatrics. 

1998;102(5 Suppl E):1282-1286.

Establish Patterns of Behavior

Our brains are essentially pattern recognition engines.

Helping your child understand and use those patterns is a great skill children should learn early.

And a child can learn patterns starting at birth (perhaps even before.)

Patterns of behavior provide the structure from which your child will learn.

Clearly establish your expectations and rules while involving your teen in the decision-making process. 

This collaborative approach fosters a sense of responsibility and ownership, helping them make healthier choices.

Foster Independence: Encouraging Critical Thinking

Empower your teen to make more of their own choices. 

Taking ownership builds critical thinking and problem-solving. Engage in thoughtful discussions – challenge ideas, and explore perspectives. 

Provide opportunities to weigh consequences and make decisions. Guide but let them learn from successes and failures – this builds resilience and confidence!

Promote Emotional Intelligence: Nurturing Empathy

Cultivate empathy for your teen’s experiences – this enables deeper connections. 

Show understanding by validating their emotions, even if you may not always agree with their


Help them understand their feelings and empathize with others. Have open talks about feelings, self-reflection, compassion, and the importance of inclusivity -this grows their ability to relate.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset: Fostering Resilience

Instill in your teen the belief that challenges and failure are growth opportunities rather than obstacles. 

Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and tackle new experiences. 

Allow them to experience the consequences of their actions and decisions.

Help them bounce back, learn from mistakes, and persist through setbacks. Celebrate their successes but also help them extract valuable lessons from failures, reinforcing their resilience and determination.

Encourage Independence: Nurturing Life Skills

Encourage self-reliance in your teen by granting them age-appropriate responsibilities and independence. 

Equip them with practical life skills that will empower them to navigate the adult world with confidence. 

Teach them financial literacy, basic cooking, time management, and problem-solving skills. These form the foundation to become independent and self-reliant adults capable of facing any challenge head-on.

Let’s empower our teens to become tomorrow’s leaders by

learning skills to foster an unbreakable lifelong bond.

Lead by Example: Modeling Positive Behavior

Children learn by watching, so demonstrate the behavior and traits you want to instill in

your teen. 

Be the best version of yourself, especially to yourself. 

Exhibit kindness, perseverance, empathy, and resilience. 

Your actions will serve as a powerful example, motivating your teen to embody these qualities in their own lives.

Encourage Healthy Relationships: Navigating Friendship Challenges

Teach your teen how to navigate the ups and downs of friendship by discussing your own


Share stories of how you worked/work through arguments, disappointments, and betrayals with friends. 

Help them gain perspective on relationship challenges as normal growing pains. 

Guide them on standing up for themselves while also being compassionate. 

Encourage open communication, forgiveness, and emotional intelligence in resolving conflicts.

Cultivating Leadership Opportunities: Support Their Passions

Help teens unlock their potential by encouraging them to pursue their passions and interests – academics, sports, arts, volunteering, and more. 

Provide resources to help them excel. 

Encourage your teen to take on leadership roles, not only within their academic or extracurricular activities but also within the family and community.

Balance Support and Independence: The Freedom to Flourish

Navigating the fine line between supporting your teen and allowing them the freedom to grow can be challenging. 

Recognize that your role is to guide and mentor, but also to give them the space they need to build their own identities. 

Balancing support and independence nurtures their self-confidence, enabling them to flourish as happy, successful adults.

Top 10 Skills for Raising Leaders

Action Steps Checklist:

1. Effective Communication: The Power of Listening

Am I creating an open environment where they feel valued and understood?

Am I being fully present when my teen is talking to me? That means no multitasking, giving them my undivided attention.

Am I listening without judgment and leaving space for them to express themselves freely? Or do I interrupt with unsolicited advice?

Do I make an effort to validate their perspective, even if I disagree? Or do I dismiss their views as invalid?

Do I ask thoughtful follow-up questions to show my genuine interest in their thoughts, feelings, and ambitions?

Am I tuning into their nonverbal cues – facial expressions, tone, body language? Or am I focused only on their words?

2. Establish Boundaries: Setting Clear Expectations

Have I clearly communicated my expectations and rules to my teen? Or are things vague, inconsistent or unspoken?

Do I take a collaborative approach when creating boundaries, soliciting my teen’s input? Or do I just impose rules without their involvement?

Am I open to respectful negotiation around boundaries, or overly rigid and controlling? Some flexibility shows respect.

Do I enforce agreed-upon boundaries calmly and consistently? Or only when it’s convenient, letting some things slide?

Do I periodically review boundaries with my teen to ensure they are still relevant? Priorities shift as teens mature.

Do I model the same boundaries I expect from my teen? Or do I sometimes bend the rules I’ve set for them?

3. Foster Independence: Encouraging Critical Thinking

Do I involve my teen in decisions that affect them, like family plans or household rules? Or do I make unilateral choices?

Have I stepped back to let my teen make more of their own choices, even if I disagree? Or do I still dictate and control?

Do I take time to have open-ended discussions to explore perspectives, not just lecture my own views?

Am I comfortable letting my teen make mistakes and face consequences? Or do I rescue them to protect my own comfort?

Do I highlight my teen’s increasing maturity, judgment, and capability? Or undermine their confidence?

Have I equipped my teen with problem-solving, research, and decision-making skills? Or just provide answers?

4. Promote Emotional Intelligence: Nurturing Empathy

Do I take time to truly understand my teen’s emotions and experiences from their perspective? Or do I dismiss their feelings as invalid?

When my teen shares difficult emotions, do I respond with empathy and validation? Or criticize and judge?

Do I openly discuss my own feelings and vulnerabilities to model emotional intelligence? Or hide behind a veneer of parental perfection?

Do I ask thoughtful questions to help my teen reflect on their emotions and gain self-awareness?

Have I created a safe space for my teen to comfortably share their feelings without fear of rejection?

Do I talk about the importance of relatability, compassion and inclusivity? Or just focus on academic/professional success?

5. Cultivate a Growth Mindset: Fostering Resilience

Do I encourage my teen to take on new challenges and calculated risks? Or discourage them from potential failure?

When my teen fails or makes a mistake, do I focus on the lessons learned? Or criticize the setback?

Do I model resilience by sharing how I learn from my own mistakes and bounce back from adversity?

Have I stepped back to allow my teen to experience natural consequences instead of shielding them?

Do I celebrate my teen’s efforts and progress, not just accomplishments?

Do I talk about failure as an opportunity for growth, not a permanent defeat?

6. Encourage Independence: Nurturing Life Skills

Am I equipping my teen with age-appropriate life skills like cooking, budgeting, time management? Or doing everything for them?

Have I created opportunities for my teen to manage their own schedule, finances, and commitments?

Do I talk about the importance of being resourceful, decisive, and confident in solving problems? Or encourage dependence on others?

Have I provided opportunities for my teen to practice independent decision-making? Or do I control the process?

Do I highlight times when my teen shows initiative, resilience, and follow-through? 

Am I preparing my teen for adulthood by gradually expanding freedoms? Or clinging to rules that offer me comfort?

7. Lead by Example: Modeling Positive Behavior

Am I demonstrating the values I want my teen to adopt – integrity, compassion, and respect? Or engaging in behavior I wouldn’t want mimicked?

Do I exhibit resilience by bouncing back from setbacks with optimism and determination? Or become negative and defeated?

Am I compassionate and patient with myself when I make mistakes? Or overly self-critical?

Do I apologize and take accountability when I mess up as a role model? Or deflect responsibility?

Do I highlight the importance of perseverance and grit when facing challenges? Or emphasize talent over effort?

Am I sincere and consistent in my actions, not just lecturing the right behaviors? Inconsistency breeds confusion.

8. Encourage Healthy Relationships: Navigating Friendship Challenges

Have I opened up about my own friendship experiences to offer perspective on relationship challenges? Or remained closed off about my past?

Do I encourage my teen to communicate openly when faced with arguments or betrayals? Or advise avoiding confrontation?

Am I helping my teen balance self-respect with compassion when hurt by friends? Or push them to cut off friends at the first sign of conflict?

Do I discuss strategies for resolving conflicts maturely? Or just criticize their choice of friends?

Do I help my teen reflect on their role in relationship problems rather than placing all blame outward?

Have I guided my teen on identifying healthy vs toxic friendships? Or remained silent until red flags appear?

10. Balance Support and Independence: The Freedom to Flourish

Do I offer guidance when asked but avoid imposing unsolicited advice or criticism? Or feel the need to constantly steer their decisions?

Am I managing my own anxiety around risks rather than limiting my teen’s freedom to grow?

Do I celebrate my teen’s increasing self-sufficiency and decision-making skills? Or undermine their confidence in their abilities?

Have I created an environment where my teen feels comfortable coming to me for guidance without judgment?

Do I focus more on advising my teen or trying to solve their problems for them? Mentoring vs rescuing.

Have I been stepping back more and more to allow my teen to make their own choices and learn from mistakes? Or still, hovering and overprotecting?

9. Cultivating Leadership Opportunities: Support Their Passions:

Am I encouraging my teen to explore their unique passions, talents, and purpose? Or pushing my own interests onto them?

Have I stepped back to allow my teen to take on leadership roles and make more decisions themselves?

Do I help facilitate my teen’s participation in activities they care about? Or obstruct involvement due to my own schedule or concerns?

Do I highlight and praise instances when my teen demonstrates leadership and initiative?

Have I created opportunities for my teen to take on more responsibility in family decisions and activities?

Am I adjusting rules and expectations to accommodate my teen’s growing maturity and interests?

Conversation Starters

If you could be an animal for a day, what would you be and why?

What’s something you believe that others find surprising?

What is one of your favorite memories with family and friends?

If you could live in any fictional world from a book/movie/TV show, which would you choose?

Is there a charity or cause you really believe in? Why?

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

If you could have any superpower, which would you choose?

What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

What’s your dream career? Why?

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

Who’s someone you really look up to? Why?

What’s something you really want to accomplish in the next 5 years?

What’s your favorite season and why?

What are the first and third things on your bucket list?

What skill or talent do you wish you had?

Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?

What is your dream vacation?

What’s your philosophy on life?

In a zombie apocalypse, who would you want as your escape buddy?

What fairy tale creature do you wish was actually real?

If you could create a phone app, what would it do?

If you make any animal the size of a puppy and keep it as a pet, which animal

would you choose?

What is the first thing you would want to do if you were only 2 inches tall?

Would you rather… Beach or Mountains? Skittles or M&M’s? Log Cabin in the

Woods or Penthouse in the City? Marvel or DC? Fancy dress up or athletic wear?

Cat or Dog? Coke or Mountain Dew? Movie Night or Game Night?