Just like the family of ducks in Robert McCloskey’s children’s classic “Make Way for Ducklings,” as parents, we “make way” for our children.
Yet the inevitable day will come when it’s time for our kids to graduate high school, head off to college, or move out on their own, and as parents, we’re left wondering: Have we done enough? Have we taught them what they need to know?
Kids may never possess “everything” they need to know, but when your ducklings leave the nest, here are 10 things that will help them navigate the waters of adulthood.
Exposing kids to a variety of social situations—formal, informal, professional, and relaxed—is a great way to introduce kids to the adult world. Do they know how to apologize sincerely when they’ve made a mistake? Can they look someone in the eye, introduce themselves, and shake hands? Are they adept at placing an order at a sit-down restaurant? The sooner they learn these basic social skills, the better off they’ll be.
Young people need to know how to prepare food, not just order take-out meals or warm up TV dinners. Shopping for groceries and cooking together as a family help kids build their skills. All kids need at least a week’s worth of go-to, inexpensive meals they can make from scratch. To kick things up a notch and open the door to a lifetime of better eating, teach them how to read a recipe and tackle rudimentary cooking skills like chopping an onion or peeling potatoes.
Understanding how to sort the laundry keeps white clothes staying white, and knowing when to use color-safe bleach keeps clothes from being ruined. Simple clothing repairs like sewing on buttons, repairing a hem, and knowing how to iron a pair of slacks and a dress shirt are also important skills for looking professional.
The parents of teenagers know that getting kids to admit they don’t know something can be a struggle. Being unafraid to ask questions actually helps kids internalize the larger life lesson, which is that they really don’t know everything. None of us do.
In order to succeed at college or in the workplace, kids need to be able to eliminate time-waster activities (TikTok videos, anyone?); organize a calendar, set goals, and create to-do lists; prioritize what’s important and eliminate what is not; and create daily routines that allow time to get all the tasks done and still have a work/life balance.
Begin when they’re small by showing them the value of material possessions, and help them save money of their own. (Pro tip: Use a clear jar to save loose change and paper money so they can see their money grow.) During middle school, help kids prioritize their purchases and show them that money is earned, not given. Encourage high schoolers to get part-time jobs, then assist them in setting up their own bank accounts, creating budgets, and assuming responsibility for paying for their own expenses.
Before a friendship or romance goes too far, consider these character-revealing situations. How do potential new friends or romantic partners treat the wait staff at restaurants or custodial staff in the residence halls? Do they get angry easily or often? Do they tend to show off or need to be the top dog in the group? Are they empathetic? Do they show signs of perseverance? Would you trust this person to hold $50 for you over a weekend?
Remind them to keep a box of saltine crackers, a can of chicken soup, and a few bottles of ginger ale or lemon/lime soda on hand. And of course, education in first aid and a well-stocked kit are always welcome during times of sickness or injury.
Look for recommendations for a class in your area, but if there’s nothing suitable, check out virtual classes like “Understanding and Applying Self-Defense Strategies” by Tammy Yard-McCracken at The Great Courses.
Learn to exercise those “show up” muscles by participating in band or orchestra, theatrical productions, or joining a sports team. Then move up to a part-time job on the weekends or over the summers. Then, when it’s time to hold a full-time job, showing up to do the work is an ingrained response.
When it comes to teaching the skills of being an adult, a “start early and avoid the rush” philosophy is best because there’s time to work through problems as they arise, but if you have a young adult heading off into the world, even a quick crash course in being an adult can help them avoid the worst pitfalls.
And as they fly away to make their own way in the world, make sure they know that you’re always there to cheer them on.