10 Life Skills Our Children Can Learn Now

While we are staying home and hanging out with our kids, it’s a great time to make sure they are prepared when they do get to leave the nest. There are so many simple things that I didn’t teach my son when he left for college. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills because I did way too much for him. I learned from my mistakes with my first child and spent time teaching my daughter the basics before she left home. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

Here’s a story I wrote while my son was in college about 10 life skills kids need to know before they leave home.

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
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My daughter with Waffles.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

Top Reasons Why Freshman Fail

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My son’s high school grad speech.

I wonder why so many kids fail college? I was shocked to read a statistic from ACT that 50% of freshman students do not return for their second year. Then, 30% of those remaining, do not graduate within five years!

Why? What can we do to better prepare our kids for college? There is so much pressure on our kids to get into great schools.You’d think with the great expense, and all their work to get in, it would be a breeze once they are there. But, it’s not.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

Here’s my list of why I think kids fail their freshman year:

ONE

Too many kids go to college. I do not think everyone should go. When I was in high school the majority of students did not continue their education past high school. They were able to get jobs, support themselves and their families without a college education. Today, a college degree has become the norm and standard. There are many kids who would be better served to work for a few years, and then decide if they want to go to college. By having everyone go, and not everyone is equipped to go, some kids are set up for failure. There are many careers that don’t require a college degree and provide a more than decent living like electricians, plumbers, hair dressers, etc.


TWO

High school doesn’t prepare kids for college. The work is often spoon-fed by teachers in little lumps of daily assignments and reading. Having a syllabus with a couple dates on it and no day-to-day requirements is more what college is like. It takes discipline, motivation and self-determination to not procrastinate, but to work and study in advance of deadlines. Our kids leave high school without the training for a college schedule.

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A gorgeous location. UCSB.

THREE

We do too much. As helicopter, hovering parents, we are afraid to let our kids fail. We don’t let our kids learn from their mistakes. They need to have more chores, part-time jobs or something to do besides homework. Some of the crazy, heavy AP schedules don’t allow for real life experiences. Plus, we cater to our kids’ every needs—even to the point of helping them complete projects or assignments. My conversation with four-time Olympian and former University of Texas head coach Jill Sterkel included some great advice that you can read on SwimSwam here. She believes in letting kids work out their problems in a less high-stakes environment. We need to give them room to do this.

FOUR

Millennials mature later, according to Kari Ellingson, Vice President at the University of Utah. I attended a talk by her at orientation with my daughter. I wrote more about her talk here. According to Ellingson, “It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28.” It’s no wonder they can’t handle the many demands of laundry, getting their own food, studying, etc. Maybe our kids are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of college at age 18?

What can we do to help our kids be prepared for success in college? What do you think are the reasons why so many kids fail in college? I’d love to get your feedback.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

Tips to Make the Senior Year Count

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My daughter’s graduation with her pup Waffles.

School is starting and for a large group of parents, this may be their children’s senior year — whether it’s high school or college. Warning: you’re going to be emotional. There’s going to be a host of final moments. Lasts. And never agains.

Here’s some advice I wrote for SwimSwam about how your kids can make their final year count. I heard this from a former swim coach of my kids. I think it applies outside the pool and to more than our children. We can take the same approach ourselves to enjoy and make the most out of our kids’ senior year, too.

“I tell my swimmers to try for best times and leave on a high note their senior year,” said Tim Hill, a coach with more than 30 years experience at the club and collegiate level. “You have to plant the seed and let them know they can do it,” he advised. Hill currently coaches at Sharks Swim Team in Texas.

Often, I see kids quit swimming before their senior year because they aren’t improving and it’s plain hard to keep working at such an intense level. They may get “senioritis” and feel they’re “over it.” If our kids believe they can still improve, maybe they’ll stick with it for one more year and put in the hard work and effort.

Trying for a best time is one bit of motivation that can propel our swimmers through their final year. What a great time to look forward to—their final meet where seniors are recognized. It’s an amazing experience for them to compete for four years and have a satisfying closure to this chapter of their lives. When they know they’ve given it their best, they’ll look back on their swimming careers without any doubts or regrets.

What can we do as parents to encourage our young adults to keep swimming throughout their high school and college years?

ONE

Be proud.

According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. If our kids are swimming through their high school and college years, we have reason to be proud and celebrate. We need to tell our kids how proud we are that they are sticking with their sport.

TWO

It looks good on their resumes.

We’ve heard that employers value athletes and especially swimmers. Employers know how hard our kids work, how organized and disciplined they are. They are competitive, goal orientated and can thrive in a challenging environment. Completing four years as a student-athlete is an accomplishment within itself.

THREE

Savor each moment.

According to many coaches and sports parenting experts, it’s important to tell our children, “I love to watch you swim.” When it’s the final year, treasure their swims, the other parents, the officials and coaches. It’s a part of our lives that seems to go on forever when they’re young, but at some point, it comes to an end. Don’t end your swim parenting years with any regrets. Have fun at your final meets and reach out to other parents to share the joy of being a part of the swim community.

What have you done—or will you do—to make the last year count?

Do you have plans to make your senior year count? Will you volunteer for senior banquets, graduation and other senior events? What friends will have you made that you want to see once the kids are gone? One thing I discovered was people I took for granted disappeared once we didn’t have kids on the team or school together. It’s worth the effort to stay connected. It can be as simple as a phone call or text. I’ve reconnected and stayed in contact with several school and swim moms and it’s a joy to get together.

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

What are your plans to make the final year count?

 

One Tip for Parents with Incoming High School Seniors –Write the Essay, Like TODAY!

imgresHere’s a tip for parents of incoming high school seniors that I wish we would have followed: get that college essay done, now.

I mean it!

I’ll never forget the agony my son went through trying to write his essays close to the deadline. He suffered from so much anxiety and went through days of writer’s block. He said the essays were the most important thing he had to write in his life.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

By procrastinating and putting it off until the end–into a busy time when he also had a half dozen AP classes and swim practice to worry about–“THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I’VE WRITTEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE” was too big a burden to deal with!

My son told me—during the summer when I suggested he get started—that the questions weren’t out yet. That’s what he said.

I have good news to share with you. The essay prompts for the Common App ARE out now for 2015-2016. You can take a look at them, and get some guidance here.  

images-1If you can “suggest,” “encourage” or “force” your high school senior to get started on writing essays for their college apps, it may be the best thing you do for them all year. Tell them to get a rough draft done. Put it away for a week or two, dust it off and have them do a rewrite. Repeat this process during the summer. Then put it away until it’s time to fill out the college applications.

You should take a look at it, too. If they let you. If not, have them find a teacher or adult friend to review it. My son wouldn’t let me review his essays. Not that as a writer with a degree in editorial journalism and a 20-plus-year career in writing could I have offered him a bit of help. But, no. He had to do it the hard way. He did get one of his English Lit teachers to review his work, though.

At this very second, he has three papers to finish for his college classes. Due today….

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Maybe your kids will take your advice and get the writing started early. They’ll also practice good habits which will serve them well when they are in college!

Writing the essays and taking time for revisions over the summer will definitely lift
a lot of senior pressure in the fall.