Before I left for college, my father summoned me to the front yard and had me change a tire. He wanted to make sure I at least knew that much about cars.
For Andrea Ellinor of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the need-to-know topic was laundry. "I'd never washed my own clothes," she says. So once she was settled into her dorm room freshman year, her mom marched her down to the dorm's basement for a crash course in using the washer and dryer. "That semester, I made a lot of phone calls home with laundry questions," she says with a laugh.
Our parents had the right idea, if not the best timing. "When kids enter high school, it's time to decide what responsibilities we want them handling by graduation," says Carl Pickhardt, PhD, author of Stop the Screaming: How to Turn Angry Conflict with Your Child into Positive Communication. You have four years to help your teens learn to take care of themselves, so come up with a list of life skills you want to pass on, suggests Dr. Pickhardt.
If you're worried that they'll never get the hang of one skill, let alone all of them, try not to sweat it. If they mess up a time or two (or three) along the way, consider it a good thing. "Learning to handle minor failures creates a resilient kid," says Michael Bradley, EdD, author of When Things Get CRAZY with Your Teen: The Why, the How, and What to Do NOW. And research shows that a resilient child is ultimately a successful one. "You can't prepare your teens for all the challenges out there," Dr. Bradley says. "But you can give them the ability to think their way through them." It all starts with the basics, like these six essential skills.
If your teens are like mine, they think kitchens and bathrooms magically clean themselves. Before you foist this delusional thinking on future roommates (and eventual spouses!), introduce your teens to the broom, dustpan, mop and toilet bowl brush. Their weekly chores should involve each one. Reveal the wonders of weekly trash pickup too by making it their job to take out the garbage.
Just remember that knowing a skill and using it in their own domain are two different things. While every kid should have chores, don't spend the high school years waging war over your teen's messy room. Better to close your eyes to a little chaos in there (as long as she's pulling her weight with her other chores around the house) and keep the lines of communication open for more important issues, says Dr. Bradley.
Boys today are more likely to spend time texting friends or hanging out on Facebook than hunched over a car engine. But teens (girls included) need to know the basics of caring for their ride: how to check the oil and tire pressure, and follow a basic maintenance schedule. Melissa Mieras of San Antonio says her husband, Tom, taught their three sons by doing those things- and explaining it all as he went along-with the boys around.
So, with your teen in tow, head to your garage and pop the hood. First, pull out the dipstick, then demonstrate how to wipe it off, replace it, pull it out again and read the oil level. Locate the reservoir for wiper fluid and where to check other engine fluids. Whip out the manual and have your teen look up the recommended oil change intervals and which type of oil to use. Point out the sticker with recommended tire pressure, usually on the driver's door frame, and show her how to use a tire gauge (make sure one stays in the glove box). And the next time you stop at a gas station, show her how to add air to the tires.
If all of this is Greek to you, get help from a car-smart relative or trusted mechanic. If you take your car to the shop, have your teen tag along. Then, when it's her car that needs work, let her do the talking.
Washing clothes hardly qualifies as rocket science, but as Andrea knows all too well, it doesn't come naturally, either. Find a way to get your teens and their dirty clothes into the laundry room (if you have to bribe them with a movie, so be it). Now go over the basics: how to read labels to see what can be washed and what should be drycleaned, how to sort clothes by color and temperature, which detergent to use and how much, how to make sense of washer and dryer settings (be sure to explain that these aren't the same on all machines).
Of course, the best way for teens to acquire this, or any skill, for that matter, is practice. After all, discolored clothes will drive home the importance of proper sorting better than any lecture from Mom. So after your tutorial, have your teens start doing their own laundry.
Be available to answer questions, but resist the urge to step in. Handling this kind of responsibility gives teens a greater sense of competency, and that's the real goal, says Dr. Pickhardt. "Each skill they acquire helps them say, I can do it myself." For that, a few ruined items of clothing seems a small price to pay.Teach your kids how to get their whites whiter with these tricks of the trade.
Austin, Texas, parents MaryPat and Mike Baringer insisted that their three now-grown children make their own appointments for haircuts, dental checkups and doctor visits, beginning in high school. Do the same with your teen. Give him a simple appointment calendar with the names and numbers of doctors, dentists and other important providers recorded in the address book section (or posted on a bulletin board). Be sure to remind him that he can't be in two places at once, and to allow time for travel to and from appointments. Suggest he check cancellation policies as well.
The Baringer kids also made their own travel arrangements for college visits. This helped them learn good communication skills, and gave them experience in managing minor difficulties such as long layovers and missed connections. "Kids learn more when things don't go smoothly," says MaryPat.
Bingo, says Dr. Bradley. A bad decision your teen makes for himself is ultimately worth more than a good decision you make for him, he says.
Along with a few basics-perhaps roasting a chicken, scrambling eggs and making pasta-teach your teen to prepare a few of his favorite meals. Have him decide on a menu and make a list of needed ingredients, then take him shopping the first time. (The next time you can be the consultant.)
When you're back at home, be there to coach him through the actual preparation from start to finish. Don't forget to include cleanup and safe storage of leftovers. From then on, have him help you fix dinner more regularly. Remind him that, besides knowing how to feed himself well, cooking is a great way to impress a potential date. That should get his attention.
Thanks to the recession, knowing how to stretch a buck is more important than ever-a lesson Colorado Springs mom Nancy Erickson continues to drive home with her college-age children. "Kids need to learn to budget and avoid debt at all costs, especially in our current economic climate," says the mom of three, who definitely practices what she preaches. Starting in high school, Nancy and her husband established clear boundaries with their kids about which expenses they as parents would cover and which ones the kids had to pay themselves-and they put it in writing!
Take a cue from the Ericksons. If your teens don't have a bank account, make sure they open one. That way, they'll have a safe, interest-bearing place to keep their allowance, birthday and holiday money, and earnings from a parttime job. Then help your teens add up their expenses-from the slice of pizza they grab after school to movies on the weekend to prom fees-and determine a monthly budget they can stick with.
What if they come up short? Resist the urge to bail them out. "Budgeting requires being able to delay gratification and think ahead, which are critical life skills," says Dr. Pickhardt. Just keep reminding yourself that it's a learning opportunity.
Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.
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