As you do the tasks at hand, teach your children how to do them themselves. Gradually, slower than the proverbial molasses in January, theyll begin to take over some of that work. —Richard Greenberg, author of 'Raising Children That Other People Like To Be Around'
When my stepson moved into an apartment at a university, we went to the supermarket. Because he liked (and knew how to cook) chicken legs, I explained that if he bought a large package and froze a portion for a second meal, he could save money.
Several weeks later, he called in crisis mode. It was apparent heâd not heard the âfreeze a portionâ bit, and there was raw chicken in his refrigerator weeks past the âuse byâ date. No stomachs were harmed, but we did discuss how to clean a refrigerator heavily âperfumedâ by spoiled poultry.
Iâm not the only parent to be remiss in remembering all the things you need to teach kids before they head to college. Thatâs why the perfect time to start coaching them in a few life lessons is while theyâre still living under your roof â long before theyâre ensconced in the dorm and youâre waving goodbye.
Maybe some of these lessons are taught in high school. Maybe not. But by the time teens are navigating life on their own, that independence will come with new responsibilities, from goal setting to budgeting to knowing when they need to see a doctor.
âMost of these kids have been under the watch of their parents, and theyâre used to their parents handling everything for them, from doctor appointments to buying toiletries to balancing a checkbook. ... Theyâre used to mom and dad looking over their shoulder and taking care of them,â says Jennifer Wider, a doctor who co-wrote âGot Teens? The Doctor Momsâ Guide to Sexuality, Social Media and Other Adolescent Realitiesâ (Seal Press). âThis is a major, crucial transition in their life.â
âGoal setting is a great skill that if you can get that down, where they set a few goals, itâs a pattern for life,â says Sean Covey, author of âThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teensâ updated for the digital age (Touchstone).
Covey offered his children planners and journals to help with the goal setting and was (eventually, itâs important to note) delighted when one child was doing just that in a journal. He said he also found, by not over planning their lives and pulling back a bit to teach them responsibility, âIâm teaching them responsibility and initiative by letting them run.â
Basic kindness, hygiene, financial management, âthose simple self-management skills, those are keys to independence,â says Richard Greenberg, who wrote âRaising Children That Other People Like To Be Around: Five Common-Sense Musts From a Fatherâs Point of Viewâ (New Generation Publishing).
âBefore your kid goes to college, create a budget,â says Greenberg, and teach them how debit cards work, what a bank balance and interest are, as well as how that can impact their budget.
Not to mention credit cards and late fees. Wider is not keen on credit cards.
âThe credit card is a perfect example of giving our kids a crutch rather than teaching them to fly on their own, which really is our job as parents â to foster a sense of independence,â says Wider. âBalancing a checkbook and learning how to deal with a budget is something that is a total necessity, because the next step is going out on your own.â
Parents need to set a good example, whether itâs teaching basic respect of each other or promoting cleanliness, adds Greenberg.
âAs you do the tasks at hand, teach your children how to do them themselves,â he writes. âGradually, slower than the proverbial molasses in January, theyâll begin to take over some of that work.â
Meanwhile, remain calm.
Among Greenbergâs list of âThings to Rememberâ in his book, he includes this: âFive/Five/Twenty. When a hard decision needs to be made, remember this formula. For five minutes theyâll be angry at you. In five days, theyâll forget about it. In 20 years, theyâll thank you.â
Here are a few life lessons to teach teens before they head to college:
Teach them to develop health self-assessment skills. âKids need to know the difference between a sore throat and strep throat, where you might need antibiotics,â Wider says. âSpotting the signs of something more serious is something a parent should bring to their childâs attention throughout high school.â
Teach them to cook, including food safety. âPushing good nutrition and stress management is very, very important for good overall health and well-being,â says Wider. Teaching them to cook âis a skill you should be building throughout high school along with food safety.â
Teach them valuable social skills. âYou are the model for your children. By listening, you teach them to listen,â says Greenberg. âTeach them how to say âpleaseâ and âthank youâ and how to introduce yourself. ... (it will) allow them to navigate the world in a way thatâs better informed rather than pretending they know everything or are too shy to ask.â
Hand them more responsibility. Theyâll learn to manage their time in their own way. âThink about how you give them freedom to spend time on their own. If they choose to work during that time thatâs their choice,â says Greenberg. âEveryone comes up with their own process. When you talk about freedom, you really need to talk about allowing your child to find their own successful process. ... If our children are reaching their goal, the way that they get there doesnât have to be the same way we got there.â
Help them learn to schedule. Itâs good to take time for a timeout. âYou need time to rejuvenate the best thing youâve got going for yourself â you!â writes Covey, citing four areas: body (exercise, eat healthy, sleep well, relax); brain (read, educate, write, learn new skills, create); heart (build relationships, give service, laugh, learn to love yourself) and soul (meditate, keep a journal, pray, take in quality media).
Help them believe in their skills. âOne of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to help them find their talents,â Covey says. He uses a childâs poor test score as an example. âI say to her, âThey canât measure your ability to connect with people.â Iâve been doing that for the last year, and suddenly Iâve heard (the child) say, âIâm really good at this.â And sheâs starting to believe it now.â
Talk about taking responsibility for their actions. Talk about the responsible use of alcohol. âWhen you are drunk and not in control of your actions, your inhibitions are lowered and unfortunately we see a lot of bad decision-making,â says Wider. This can include unprotected sex, drunken driving and date rape. âI tell parents about a buddy system, which is lifesaving; never taking a drink from a punch bowl â ever; never letting somebody buy you a drink (and) always (be sure to) see the drink opened on your own.â
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