10 Life Skills Our Kids Need — BEFORE College

After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

 

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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?

 

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Are your kids ready for #adulting?

 

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Where we went with our kids for summer vacations.

One of the side effects of doing everything for our kids is they won’t know how to do anything on their own. We’re setting them up for a big fail if we send them to college without basic life skills. In addition to the amazing grades, high SATs and sports achievements, they need to learn how to take care of their health, money, car and clothes.

I remember when I was 16, I took one of my best friends on a family vacation on our boat in British Columbia. One day we docked in Campbell River B.C. and my mom and dad divided up the chores we needed to get done while we were ashore. My dad went to the Marine supply store, mom to groceries, I went for bait and fishing gear. My friend was sent to the laundromat. A little while later, my parents met up at the laundromat and were shocked my friend had no idea how to do laundry!

I had done laundry since I was a little kid. My mom went back to college while I was in first and second grades. My brother and I were latchkey kids and we walked home from school to a daily list of chores. How we hated mom’s slanted handwriting that filled an entire sheet of yellow legal-sized paper. I understand now that she was keeping us busy and out of trouble by giving us a list of chores that we would never ever be able to finish. Either that or she was a slave driver. I prefer to think it was the former.

In any case at the age of seven, I could bake cakes, vacuum the house, sort laundry, weed the garden, mow the lawn, make my own lunch and do the dishes. I wonder how many high school seniors today do those chores? I know my kids could—but not often. I didn’t make them. It was easier for me to do it myself. My daughter came up with the best excuse ever–a unique mystery illness. While we were on summer vacations at the beach, we’d rent a cottage that didn’t have a dishwasher. She literally would break out in a rash on her legs and arms when it was her turn to do the dishes! Maybe it was an allergy to the latex gloves, but it looked awful enough for her to get out of washing dishes. Then, how could I make my son do them if she didn’t?

 

 

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Angus wasn’t allowed inside the beach cottage, but he sure wanted to be.

 

In the Montgomery Advertiser, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman wrote “Parenting: Adulting goals for teens.” They have a one-hour syndicated talk radio show and give parenting advice. In their article, they list a bunch of things that our kids need to learn—before they leave for high school. I’ve also written about what our kids need to learn before they leave home for SwimSwam and here.

Here’s an excerpt from the “Adulting goals for teens article:”

Do our kids understand the basic principles of healthy eating? Do they know the difference between fats, carbohydrates and proteins, and do they know which foods are the best sources for each? Do they know that they need omega 3 fatty acids but should avoid trans fats? Are they familiar with which foods contain each?

Can they cook? Do they know the difference between a paring knife and a chef’s knife and why they would need to use one or the other? Do they know how to carve a bird or thicken a sauce or caramelize onions?

Can our teens self diagnose common illnesses? Do they know the difference between flu symptoms and the common cold, and can they treat either one with over the counter medicines or natural remedies? Do they know basic first aid and have they taken a CPR class?

Do our high schoolers know the difference between municipal, state and federal agencies? Do they know who to call if a stop sign is knocked down or what steps to take if they have a fender bender?

Can they change a tire, replace their windshield wipers and check their oil? Do they understand the difference between liability insurance and collision coverage?

The questions could go on and on, and of course, there’s no way to prepare our kids for every situation they could possibly encounter, but if we set a goal to help our teens learn the basics of adulting, we can be pretty confident that by the time they venture out on their own, they will know enough to do well and be able to find the answers when they are unsure.

 

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The cottage we rented every summer for years.

How prepared are your kids for living away from home? Did you have more life skills then your children at the same age?

 

Top 10 Life Skills Kids Need Before College

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My son on his “Snow White pony” at Thursday night Village Fest.

Talk about failing “Parenting 101.” My son called me throughout his freshman year of college with the most trivial questions—like how to address an envelope to how to pay for gas with cash. What happened during his 18 years that he made it through in one piece without basic life skills?

I’ll tell you what happened. I was rushing to school with forgotten homework, packing his lunch and swim bag. I picked up after him and did his laundry. He was, after all, way too busy pursuing the title of Valedictorian to be bothered with mere mortal pursuits of day-to-day life. I was the enabler. But, I learned from his questions and made sure my second-born was ready and prepared to leave home.

One of my best friends lives 30 minutes from his university. She called him his first weekend at school and said if he ever needed anything, please call. Was she surprised when he said, “Could you bring me some laundry detergent? The thread count is so low on the sheets Mom bought me and they’re itchy.”

She said, “No, I’m not your mother and when I said if you needed anything I meant in case of an emergency. You can find your own laundry detergent somewhere on campus.”

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My son during his graduation night speech.

 

Here are 10 basic life skills kids need to know before they leave home:

ONE

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.

TWO

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! 

THREE

Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables and cooking rice. 

FOUR

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.

FIVE

How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from my son: “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.

SIX

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.

SEVEN

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 in Seattle. 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. 

EIGHT

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!

NINE

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.

TEN

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.

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

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My beautiful son when he was three.