Twelve years of formal schooling and maybe an additional two for Preschool and Kindergarten, and suddenly you come face to face with sending your child off to college. Is he prepared? Will she succeed? In a sense, every moment since birth has led you here.
I cannot see the future and cannot predict the success of your child in college. But what I can tell you is that the skills I list below will go a great way in securing success in both college and in life.
I must make a preliminary disclaimer before I share the skills list that my budding college student should have mastered: Though I have two high school students, we are a work in process. We have not achieved all of these skills... yet - so I hold these up as the ideal. In a certain sense, I look at this list with a bit of nostalgia, almost wishing I could rewind the clock to work to instill some of these skills or habits in my kids when they were younger. So, if you fall into the 'younger children' category - listen up! You may find yourselves ahead of us old folk by picking up some ideas we wish we had the foresight to implement.
I will break the 20 skills your high schooler should master before leaving into four minor lists: Relational Skills, Practical Skills, Spiritual Skills, and Random Skills.
5 Relational Skills
1. Know How to Own Your Own Mistakes
This right here is an incredibly difficult skill to master: identifying and claiming responsibility for errors in judgment, execution, and/or attitude. Most adults are still struggling to master this skill. How it manifests itself and sounds in a situation will depend on what actually happened, but it goes something like this: 'I failed to ___________' or 'I made a mistake' together with, 'I realize it was my job to do it (or not do it), and I regret how my oversight (or lack of thought or care) has caused ____________ (pain, inconvenience, frustration) to others. Here is how I plan to fix it."
There are four parts to this skill:
1. Owning your failure or mistake.
2. Acknowledging what you should have done.
3. Acknowledging the effect your actions had on the situation or the people involved.
4. Explaining how you plan to make amends.
Admitting you were wrong involves self-awareness and OTHERS-awareness. These days it is a pretty trendy concept to become self-aware, but sadly, it seems that the idea of being OTHERS-aware has fallen by the wayside.
2. Practice Demonstrating Gratitude
This skill is an outward habit of an inward reality. Naturally, your children will have cultivated thankful hearts and attitudes throughout their tenure in your home to some degree.
My sister wins the 'thank-you-note-writing' award. She has been able to train and implement the outward demonstration of gratitude via note-writing in her kids. We have been less successful in this very cultured and genteel skill, but all the same, I would encourage you to consider attempting to teach it.
If you have inner gratitude in your heart, no one will know unless you say it out loud or in writing. The skill of communicating gratitude and appreciation is something kids graduating from your home desperately need to learn. It will serve them well throughout life. Teach them to look adults in the eye, extend a hand and say thank you, or to pick up a writing instrument and pen a thoughtful note to convey their gratitude.
If you need further tips on teaching gratitude, here are 3 Tips to help your children develop gratitude.
3. Practice Showing Affection
Showing affection is part of basic manners, especially in the home. On a day when one of my kids came home and neglected to hug me, my shocked ten-year-old exclaimed, 'Is that any way to greet your Mother?!?'
We thought this response was hilarious, mostly because I've never been referred to in such a formal tone as 'Mother.' But beyond that, it was adorable and has been repeated often when I demand my obligatory hug or if it is a stiffer kid (which we make allowance for because not everyone is a hugger), at least minimal eye contact and a short conversation.
4. Be Attentive Listeners
As far as I can tell, my high schoolers have learned to listen well. Much of it came through their time in the classroom where attentive listening has been required and modeled.
At home we supplemented the attentive listening skill around our table while entertaining unique and interesting guests and listening while they tell their life stories. My children have watched me engage and draw out the guests at our table with ease. They have learned that almost every person has something to 'bring to the table' and I have seen them sit with fixed gaze and interest across from a variety of people - young, old, politically liberal, conservative, religious, un-religious, educated, uneducated and everything in between.
Listening attentively is one part of the two-way communication process. Decoding the message correctly leads to successful communication. Attentive listening will ensure success and limit misunderstanding. This skill will be useful in relationships at home and work.
5. Follow Through with Commitments
Follow-through means showing up to a job, doing the job and not complaining about said job. It means when asked to do a simple task at home, that the task is done quickly and as expected.
I realize this is much easier said than done. Much of mastering follow-through comes about over time, with discussion, with modeling and with much patience. Don't berate your children or use anger to discourage their efforts or lack thereof. Simply invite their participation in tasks around the home. If there is some push back in children that are getting ready to leave your home, it could be a sign that they aren't ready to leave yet. Living in a household or being in a workplace involves commitments. It's pretty basic.
Duty is a word that is not often used today. If your children are assigned a commitment or tasks they didn't choose or don't like, an explanation of the virtues of duty might be appropriate. Life has many more moments of duty than you might realize. Duty need not be drudgery - but should instead be seen as an opportunity to grow in wisdom, grace, self-sacrifice, and love — all high callings - all worthy qualities in an adult.
5 Practical Skills
1. Doing Laundry
Figuring out how to use your family washing machine is a must, but young adults should also be able to figure out how to do laundry in a different model and a laundromat.
The basics like sorting whites and darks, how much detergent to use, using hot or cold water are all things everyone should know. Knowing how to operate machines should also be extended to microwaves, ovens, blenders, and other essential home gadgets. You know that practice makes perfect, so start these lessons early.
2. How to Perfectly Fold a T-shirt
Okay, this one isn't necessary. But, it gives me sheer joy to perfectly fold t-shirts. I passed this love of folding on to my daughter recently. I showed her a perfectly flat folded t-shirt, and she saw my point. She now realizes the value (read joy!) of a perfectly folded t-shirt. This really is not about the particular skill of folding laundry, but rather that there is a proper way to do things that requires attention to detail. Mastering perfect execution yields satisfaction. Maybe my children will never care to fold t-shirts the way I do, but what is essential is that they realize that household upkeep requires both work and joy.
Laundry will always be there. We can choose to perceive it as a burden or a joy. I recently folded a pile of laundry fresh out of the dryer and pointed out to my daughter that folding laundry while it is still warm means fewer wrinkles and saves time in the long run. I told her I often think of the people whose clothes I am folding and pray over and for them during this time. I thank God for these people He's put in my life to serve. Even when I am irritated with a family member or find it challenging to be kind, I take laundry time to pray a blessing over them. So, yes, a perfectly folded t-shirt can be a lot of things.
3. How to Fill Out Forms
In many cases, the very first impression someone will have of you is what they see written on an intake form - from the doctor's office, therapist's office, or a job application to a school application. Although many applications will be completed online, there are still plenty of opportunities for handwritten applications. I encourage my children to have near-perfect handwriting on forms. Although it makes the job so much easier for those who process them, it also reflects on you as a person - that you take care to present yourself in the best possible light.
4. How to Cook
The skill to cook is an individual achievement. Some people are born to cook while others have to learn to cook. Kids leaving for college should have mastered the basics: frying an egg, frying bacon, crumbling bacon for salad, putting cooled bacon in a BLT, wrapping bacon around dates for hors d'oeuvres, using bacon in quiche, saving bacon grease for sauteing onions for your next recipe. More complicated recipes would, of course, include fresh foods and a healthy balance between protein, fiber, carbs, and fat in your diet. But first: Bacon.
5. How to Clean a Bathroom
I used to clean houses when I was a student, and I was excellent at it! The reason I made such a good impression was that I was fearless around the grossest jobs. I prided myself on cleaning all the dust-bunnies, stray hairs, specks, dust-particles and what-have-you behind the commode. I've told my kids about my raving reviews and have taught them that a clean toilet means you'd be willing to drop your bread behind it and pick it up and eat it (not that we would ever try this for real, but simply to make a point). If they can clean a toilet to shiny, squeaky clean, they'll surely go places in life. At least, that is my hope.
5 Spiritual Skills
1. How to Read the Bible.
We have read the Bible together as a family from our children's earliest days. When they were very young, my husband would turn off the lights when they were in bed and read aloud from the Bible - beginning in Genesis 1 and going chapter by chapter through the whole Bible. My kids heard the Bible read aloud to them in its entirety by the time they were 8, and then portions during family Bible readings after that.
As they've grown, we've opened discussions over passages and fielded questions and musings. They haven't perfected the art of reading the Bible, but it is something they understand as a family practice. They have both experienced it as a family and seen the Bible studied independently. As they leave our home, they may or may not carry on these habits, but it won't be for lack of exposure if they choose not to.
(For some tips on how to read the Bible to your children, here is an article that delves into the topic: Why Read the Bible with Your Children.)
2. How to Pray
Our kids have grown up praying aloud with us and for us. Each family and each church environment has different styles and forms of prayer.
Because I like diversity in most everything, I have been sure to incorporate formal prayers and historical prayers of the Church in our prayers. At mealtimes, I will sometimes pray the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi or invite the family to join in the Lord's Prayer. They have heard us mostly pray naturally from our hearts, and they have joined in this. They have participated in on-the-spot prayer times where a sudden need arises. They have been frantically looking for a lost shoe or some other item, and we have prayed for help in those times.
My prayer is that these moments of being in prayer about life will become what sustains them as they leave our home.
3. How to Do Church
In our home church is a high priority. Our older kids were brought to church within the first week of their lives - sometimes even the next day. Then I realized that the 6-week hibernation at home doctors recommend is really a very good idea.
We make a regular habit of being in church, going together as a family, and discussing church things at home. We discuss the sermon, the Sunday-school, the people we know and meet, the friends we make, and who to have over next.
We consider the church our extended family. This crafted family often comes over for meals or hang-out time or to laze about on a summer's day in the hammock outside. Extended family is always welcome at our door. This is how we do church. I trust our kids have a sense of the joy of the church community and take that with them when they graduate from our home.
4. How to Practice the Presence of God
The first three spiritual skills I mentioned above are all outward things my children can do to show their devotion to Christ: reading the Bible, praying and church attendance.
Practicing the presence of God is not so much something they can DO, but a way for them to BE. If this concept of thinking of ourselves in the presence of God at all times is too far-out, may I suggest a reading of 'The Practice of the Presence of God' by Brother Lawrence? He details it perfectly.
I read this book when I was 16 and have been impacted by the testimony and example of this long-ago saint. I intend to live as he did - enjoying the companionship, presence, wisdom, peace, love, and grace of God in every moment of the day. I want the same for my children. I think it's vital that they understand spirituality as not just about doing a bunch of things, but also of thinking a certain way and experiencing God, who is unseen, yet ever-present.
5. How to Worship
Although worship is related to church attendance, it is so much more. We know a little about worship by reading the Psalms in the Bible. But, in the passage in John 4, where Jesus discusses worship with the woman at the well we learn what kind of worship God requires. Those who worship Him must worship 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4:24b).
Worship takes place in an immaterial part of ourselves. For us to be true worshipers, we must be able to engage the parts of us that aren't entirely outward - our eyes, ears, sense of smell, touch, taste. The spirit is that immaterial part inside us where God's Spirit seeks to dwell - as Ephesians 3:17 puts it: 'in our hearts by faith.'
One way we tried to introduce our kids to what it means to worship was to take a break from family Bible reading to do something different. For five nights, we alternated picking a song. We turned off all the lights, sat in the living room and played the song quite loudly so we could really soak in the words and the experience of awe and worship that comes with being engulfed in worship music. Some points we pondered after this exercise were:
- What does worship mean to you?
- How do you feel close to God?
- When do you feel close to God?
- Are you aware of God in your life as you go about your daily tasks?
5 Random Skills
1. How to Make a Phone Call
It seems obvious, but I wonder if in this day and age of texting and social media, kids haven't learned how to initiate a conversation over the phone.
We have taught our kids how to dial the phone, begin by stating who they are, and then to ask a relevant question or stating the purpose of their call to the recipient CLEARLY. We usually talked about what they wanted to ask ahead of time, and roll played different scenarios and verbiage. Sometimes it is helpful to write a simple script with keywords to guide a child's questioning, especially when they are contacting a government organization or college where they might speak to several operators before they reach the right person.
2. How to Fill Out a Check
Even though millenials and Gen Z might see checks as an archaic form of payment and much of today's finances are handled electronically, there may still be times when they need to issue a payment to a baby boomer or a Gen X'er... by check. Make sure your children know how to complete each section of a check, but also how to keep track of their payments in the log. If anything, they might impress some old-schooler by having this out-dated skill.
3. How to be a Good Customer
It is a pet-peeve of mine to see service personnel receive verbal, emotional, and hideous abuse from customers all in the name of 'the customer is always right.'
My kids and I have witnessed obnoxious behavior in adults in restaurants, stores, airports, public transport, and other public venues. Customers that demand and complain and make a server's life miserable boil my blood. I have taught my kids that they may respectfully request what they need, but with consideration and grace. They are to be kind and polite and generous in their tipping. I have shown them how to win with customer service representatives and how often a little kindness goes a long way to yielding great results. I have taught them to rather take a loss financially, accept the wrong meal or an item with some minor flaw or imperfection than to extend the emotional effort to complain or demand the establishment make it up to them. I would rather let the matter lie than to cause grief and strain and stress to another - even if I was slighted or didn't receive everything I think I deserved. Will not God make up the difference? Would Jesus demand that customer service make Him comfortable? No? Then why would I act any differently?
I have also pointed out a quote from Ian Maclaren, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." We cannot presume to know what is happening in someone else's life; therefore, we should extend grace even when we feel like pushing our own demands.
4. How to be a Good Guest
Always leave a place better than you found it. And always leave having left marks of love and grace, if at all possible. Even in a public restroom, wipe the counter and dispose of trash lying around.
5. How to Deal with Money
Here is the bottom line: debt is bad. Be frugal, live within your means, and have a good work ethic. If no job is beneath you and if you aren't extravagant and if you plan carefully, you'll avoid many potential disasters in your life. We have shown our children what it is not to have enough and still be grateful, dependent on God, and to recognize that we have so much more than most in the world.
We aimed to teach our children some basic budgeting skills and, when they leave our home, the time will come for them to put it in practice. Even though we aren't financial gurus who have it all together, we have openly shared the troubles we faced and how we recovered from them. (For more on this topic check out our article "Beyond the Allowance: 5 Ways to Build Your Child's Financial Literacy")
And there you have it: 20 skills to instill in your high schooler before they graduate from your home!
Other ideas??? Please comment in the section below to add to the list of skills,
so we can all learn from each other!!