A favorite saying at our home is, “Your mother is not going to college with you. She already went.” As parents, you will not always be there to wake your children up, make their beds, do their laundry, help with homework, motivate them, and intervene with friends or with teachers. In other words, your children need to learn to be responsible and take care of themselves in many aspects of their lives. So you need to help your children develop the skills necessary for success at college, and in life in general.
Life skills refer to those skills needed to make it through life: cooking, cleaning, laundry, and budgeting. Being able to do these things makes you self-sufficient. My mother loves to tell of her first experience living on her own at college. She had not been taught how to so much as boil water. Her roommates were extremely patient and helped her learn a lot of these skills. In turn, she made sure my siblings and I knew at least the basics in the kitchen and how to clean and care for our living space.
Another component of life skills is time management. Learning to set aside time to study and complete assignments on time is easier learned at home than when that first crush of homework hits at college. Also, being able to make yourself go to bed at a reasonable hour so your body gets enough rest and you are able to get up on time is difficult to learn under the pressure of college life.
Teens need to develop a work ethic. This will serve them well in working hard at school and earning money for their education. Come to an agreement about what portion of their secondary education you expect them to have responsibility for. In our family we ask each child to pay for their books and any incidentals they will have through the first year. After that we expect them to pay for room and board as well. Each family needs to determine this on their own, based on their own financial circumstances. But asking them to pay at least a portion helps them understand the value of that education.
When our oldest child was asked how we helped her to succeed at college, her first response was our encouragement to learn — and not just to pass the test, but to find excitement in learning something new. Encourage your children and teens to share what they have learned that day at dinner. Use this time to delve deeper into the topic and ask more questions. If no one knows the answer, have someone seek it out. The ability to ask, ponder and explore beyond the expectations helps prepare them for the debate that happens at college.
College provides an opportunity to interact with all types of people from backgrounds different from your own. Teach your children to be respectful of others and the differences they may have. This is an invaluable tool when it comes to living with roommates and associating with classmates.
Teens also need to learn to speak with adults face to face. Our second daughter is currently a freshman in college. When a professor in her major spoke about possible careers in that field, she took the opportunity to speak to him after class and get the name of a professor in her field of interest. If you always do the talking for your children when it comes to their interactions with teachers, leaders or other adults, they will not develop this necessary skill.
A word about technology fits well within this skill. Modern technology makes communication much easier, but cannot replace the value of face-to-face interaction. Don’t let technology handicap your teen’s ability to develop people skills.
Being able to speak with adults will enable your teen to become better advocates for themselves. Again, if you run interference with your child’s teachers every time an issue arises, they will not learn to speak up and advocate for themselves.
Learning to advocate for themselves can also apply to roommates. When I moved to an off-campus apartment, I became frustrated with being the only one taking out the garbage. A meeting with my roommates resolved the problem after I spoke up. A rotation of chores was developed and we were able to have a clean and peaceful apartment the rest of the year.
Leaving home for college can be an exciting and terrifying experience. Teaching your teen these vital skills will help make the experience an enjoyable and successful one.