Courtesy of Elizabeth Wickham
College comes all too quickly for us parents. Because of our kids’ unbelievably busy schedules —morning and evening swim practices, long weekend meets, always trying to squeeze in hours of studying—we often do too much for our kids.
Our motive is to help them survive the rigors of daily life. When they go to college, hopefully we won’t tag along to help them through their day.
I was surprised at questions my son asked me during his first year of college. I’ve had many laughs with swim moms about what our kids didn’t know. You don’t know what they don’t know—until you get that phone call.
Independence is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children. Let’s get them prepared for their next great adventure. Here’s my list of the “top things kids need to know before going to college.”
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. Paying bills on time is awesome, too.
Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort whites and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold—and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes and towels. The clean underwear does not appear by magic!
Teach your child cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables and cooking rice. The first year they’ll be in a dorm, but after that they may have to rely on their own food prep skills.
Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, use coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.
How to get to and from the grocery store.
This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got: “Mom. I’m at Costco. How do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?” Hmm. Good question!
If your child hasn’t held a job and you provide for them, they lack budgeting skills. Not many swimmers I’ve met have time to work. Some of my fellow swim moms give their kids a full semester’s worth of money to teach them how to budget. I’m more comfortable providing cash on a monthly basis. They learn quickly how to budget after running out of money.
At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the dorm bathroom. Within minutes—gone. I also had two locked bikes stolen. My son’s laptop was stolen from a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended for a minute! Purchase a solid bar lock for bikes.
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 references, internships and grades. Advise your kids to meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!
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.
How to buy stamps, address envelopes and know how much postage is needed. We had these skills in grade school, but this generation is relatively unfamiliar with snail mail.
Learn to say no!
College means swimming, hanging out with friends, listening to music, dances, rallies, football games, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help them stay focused.
If you have a swimmer at home, it’s never too soon to get started on the list. What other essential life skills would you add?
Elizabeth Wickham volunteered for 14 years on her kids’ club team as board member, fundraiser, newsletter editor and “Mrs. meet manager.” She’s a writer with a bachelor of arts degree in editorial journalism from the University of Washington with a long career in public relations, marketing and advertising. Her stories have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Parenting and Ladybug. You can read more parenting tips on her blog.