1) How to make an appointment: I know it sounds kind of basic to be able to make an appointment on your own but many kids have never done that before and some get overwhelmed and intimidated by it. The biggest problem for most is time management and not booking themselves for too many things at once so it’s a good idea to gradually have them take over making their own doctor, dentist, and other such appointments themselves before they head off to college. It’s a good idea to let them make some of their own travel arrangements too – perhaps for their first trip home for a weekend or holiday. These things may come second nature to most adults but there are some little details involved that our kids need to know how to handle on their own.
2) How to cook: Ok, so some kids just love to cook and will be right beside you in the kitchen but for the others, just knowing a few basics can be of great benefit to them. Let them pick out a few of their favorites that are pretty basic to make and teach them. Show them how to make a grocery list, how to get the most bang for their buck, how to navigate a grocery store (finding the best deals, picking the freshest foods and so on) and then how to make a few simple meals to get by. Things like scrambled eggs, spaghetti, roast chicken, and maybe a few casseroles are good choices.
3) How to budget and manage their money: Be sure they have a bank account set up and that they know how to use it responsibly before leaving home. Help them figure out what they can and can’t afford each month and how to make sure their bills are paid on time. You might also want to add them as a co-user on one of your credit cards (one with a small limit, like $100) so that you can teach them about how credit works. I found that both for myself and for my daughter when each of us was in university, companies started offering us all kinds of credit cards and this can open the door to a giant financial mess if you’re not prepared for it.
4) How to do basic cleaning: Seriously, at orientation at my daughter’s university, they told us that a good 60% of students showed up there without knowing basic cleaning skills. Some universities have even held “How to Clean Your Room” sessions to help address this issue. Make sure your child has had experience with a variety of different cleaning chores (for example, in my daughter’s first dorm situation, she had to be able to clean her own bedroom and the shared bathroom) as well as how to do laundry.
5) How to do some basic car maintenance: If your child is taking a car away to school, it can be really great to show them a few basics like how to check the oil, use a tire gauge, and even how to change a tire. My dad taught me those things when I was in high school and it has been invaluable knowledge. If your child will be navigating public transportation, be sure they understand how to read a transit map and schedule. I can’t tell you how many of my friends ended up stranded somewhere calling everyone they knew begging for a ride because they didn’t possess this skill.
6) How to navigate relationships: Make sure your child is prepared for maneuvering the often complicated relationships in university. These include the relationship with their professors – profs expect university students to behave in a more mature manner than high school students which includes being able to go to them and ask for the help they need, to advocate for themselves, and to take responsibility for their actions and their work. It also includes friendships – for many students, they are leaving the comfort of a school they’ve been attending for several years with the same group of friends and it can be difficult to know how to make new friendships at university. A little advice (gentle suggestions, nothing overbearing) such as encouraging them to get involved in some extracurricular activities can be very helpful. Finally, there are the “romantic” relationships. These are the ones that are often most difficult for parents to talk about with their kids but certainly, can be the most important and life-changing. Whatever your views on your kids and birth control, it’s still important that kids know how to handle themselves in sexual situations – wanted or unwanted. Make sure they know where to go to get help and advice, how to handle an overly amorous date, and keep those lines of communication open so they can come to you if they need to.
7) How to make choices and decisions: From what kind of dorm they want to live in to what courses to take to what to major in, university is filled with making choices and decisions and these can feel so overwhelming. Give your child the chance to make some of these decisions while still at home where you can offer support.
8) How to fill out forms: I couldn’t believe how many kids arrived at my daughter’s university not entirely knowing what they had signed up for because they hadn’t filled out any of the forms themselves. Their parents had done it all. Many of them were upset by the dorms they were living in, classes they were taking, and so on because they had thrown their hands up at the “complicated forms” and handed them over to their parents to take care of. When all those forms came rolling in for university, I told my daughter that if she was old enough to go away to university, she had to be old enough to take care of all the paperwork herself too. Of course, I was there to answer questions and offer support while she did it, but she did the work.
Throughout all of this, I personally think it’s important that you let your child struggle a bit – if you bail them out from every tangle they get themselves into, how will they ever learn to be independent and self-sufficient. They need to learn how to cope when a crisis hits (big or small) and not have you step in to fix things. Offer a sympathetic ear, advice if they ask for it, and support through it all and then step back and show them that you value their abilities and have confidence in their choices and decisions.
Did I miss anything? What do you think a child needs to learn before leaving home?