Parents aren’t going to be doing it all forever

There’s so much thought and pre-planning that goes into getting your teen ready for high school. You’ve run through the schedule and school layout, researched some teachers, and reviewed piles (oh, and piles) of paperwork. So, now that’s all done, is there anything else you can do to support your almost high-schooler in taking this big leap? We asked three experts to share their knowledge when it comes to learning those all-important coping skills for teens. You know, the ones that won’t be listed on their freshman-year syllabus.

1. Keeping track of all the things.

Until now, it’s been mostly your parenting brain helping your kid remember homework assignments, soccer practices, and those all-important school projects. With high school around the corner, let your teen step out of your brain and into theirs by keeping track of their own responsibilities. “Most schools have Learning Management Systems where teachers post assignments, etc. Students should train themselves to check those daily,” says Michael Roemer, Ph.D., and Director of Global Education at Trinity Valley School.

Apps like Remind and Band are useful when it comes to planning, and viewing calendars, and educators can communicate with their students here. In addition to these apps, teens can make lists or use a calendar to remember homework and important things after school. Roemer suggests trying out different organizational methods to find one that works best. “Kids need to try several things in elementary and middle school so that they have their own ‘system’ in place by high school,” Roemer says.

2. The value of making checklists.

Studies show that people perform better when they write down what they need to do. And writing out a checklist list when it comes to daily tasks gives us structure and visual aid for what needs to be accomplished. Teach your teen how to make their very own to-do list for homework or after-school commitments.

There are great list-making apps like Bear In Mind and Lists To-do that can be fun and easy to use or you can go old-school and write it out in a notebook. Writing out your list breaks up screen time and oh, wait for it…physically writing improves memory function and supports clear thinking skills. Also, research shows if you take a minute to doodle or decorate your list, this action helps you relax and think creatively—and your checklist just looks snazzier.

3. Self-reliance means setting a morning alarm.

Your kid waking up without your help may seem impossible, but sometimes the simplest tasks teach the most valuable lessons. “Responsibility is so important for kids,” says Paige Schueler, a child educator with Slate Run Elementary. “Recognizing that all of our actions have positive or negative consequences is vital for kids as they become adults.”

Empowering your almost high-schooler with responsibilities like setting a morning alarm builds confidence, and gives your teen more of what they’re craving—independence. “I think what’s most important is realizing that life doesn’t make excuses for us, so learning to be self-reliant and responsible is huge,” Schueler says.

4. Conversational skill basics.

Knowing how to hold a conversation helps kids build connections, make friends, and learn to ask for what they need. Dr. Katie Smith, a licensed clinical and child psychologist, says one way to work on gaining confidence when interacting with friends and authority figures is to practice.

“Encourage kids to talk to others outside their normal sphere—servers, store clerks, and neighbors,” Dr. Smith says. “Encourage them to make eye contact and remember that nonverbal communication skills make an important first impression (posture, facial expression, eye contact) that let others know you’re open to socializing.”

This type of consistent practice can empower your teen and deepen their understanding of talking and listening. Some kids need practice with a reciprocal conversation, and here Dr. Smith suggests going over this skill with them. “When asked a question, respond, then follow up with a question,” she says.

5. Knowing emergency protocols.

It can be nerve-wracking to talk to your kids about emergency situations and how to handle them. But having honest and age-appropriate discussions about these situations supports your teenager in feeling competent and in control. If we have a plan we’ve talked about and practiced, we’re more likely to automatically start plans and panic less, Roemer says. So, make sure your teen knows how and who to call for help depending on the emergency.

Schueler teaches her students—and her own kids—that it’s important to be aware of their surroundings. “I teach them to be aware of the situation they’re in and ask questions like: Do you feel safe? Are there people around that may not look safe? Are there circumstances that may not look safe?”

So, help your kids recognize unsafe and potentially dangerous situations and then give them the tools they need to leave. In some cases, you can create pre-planned exit strategies like a “blame parents” text code if your teen recognizes an uncomfortable situation and needs an out.

6. Doing (and folding and putting away) laundry.

Showing your teen how to wash, dry, and fold their own laundry is a good way to teach them accountability and the cause and effect of consequences. Because, guess what… if you don’t wash your dirty underwear or your favorite shirt, you won’t have it to wear the day you need it. Showing them how to take care of their belongings also reveals the real work behind what used to be parental magic. If you’re wondering if your kids’ white load will end up pink, Dr. Smith says, “A good thing to keep in mind is that if they can do it for themselves, they should.”

7. Awareness in social situations.

So, you’ve probably noticed the lightning-fast speed at which your teen’s mood can shift. One minute you’re the coolest parent ever and the next, well… not so much. This is due in part to hormonal fluctuations and developmental changes in the brain, which makes feelings run strong. Teens are learning how to process their emotions and are becoming more socially aware by recognizing the feelings of those around them, according to the University of Minnesota.

You can support this life skill for teens by bringing awareness into your everyday life. Asking your kid how they’re feeling so they can check in with themselves, using favorite TV/book characters to discuss their feelings and reactions, and/or modeling healthy ways to interact with those around you are all ways to support them. Becoming socially aware allows your teen to build strong positive relationships and develop deeper levels of empathy.

8. Understanding basic money matters.

Giving your teen the practical steps to deal with money not only helps them understand its value, but this conversation opens up the door for a lifetime of understanding. Explain the principles of saving and spending. Then talk to them about the cost of groceries or show them how to comparison-shop the price of that new game they so desperately want.

If you’re working with an allowance, apps like FamZoo or Step can help you navigate money management in a hands-on way. And don’t forget you can always set up a savings account and teach your kid the time-honored skill of balancing a checkbook. When learning any new skill like dealing with money, patience and support go a long way. “Kids are going to make mistakes, and that’s natural and a part of learning. So, let them fail, but be there to support them and help them recover and grow,” Roemer says.

9. Advocating for yourself.

Grade school is a time when your protective parenting instincts kick in, causing you to step in and stand up for your kid. But high school can be a time for your teen to learn how to speak up for themselves. “From a young age, our school and my family teach our kids to ‘use their big voice’ and tell the person what don’t like and what they would like instead,” Schueler says.

When it comes to self-advocacy, Schueler explains that it’s important we take steps to change society’s thinking that we’re rude or inconsiderate when telling someone we’re not comfortable in a certain situation. “And that starts with making teens more comfortable with expressing their opinions in a polite way,” Schueler adds.

The good news is parents can totally help their teens practice this life skill. “Adults can model for kids what it looks like to ask for guidance or support,” Roemer says. When this kind of culture exists, Roemer says it’s easier for teens to feel like advocating for themselves is what they should be doing, and that it’s more than okay, it’s expected. Learning how to speak up for yourself is a critical life skill that will serve them well as they move into adulthood, but be sure to meet your teen where they are. Dr. Smith suggests if your teen feels they cannot approach a teacher with a question or concern, find other ways that support like helping them write an email.

10. Preparing a meal.

You don’t have to be ready to be on Top Chef Jr. to know how to make a tasty meal. Preparing a simple breakfast, lunch, or dinner bolsters confidence and teaches responsibility. And yup, you guessed it; these are all qualities that can help make the transition from grade school to high school easier. “Keep in mind that our job as parents is to release confident, self-reliant, and independent young adults into the world,” Dr. Smith says. This means teaching them skills like preparing a meal (or setting their morning alarm) because, as Dr. Smith says, “self-reliance leads to confidence and independence.” And these are life skills for teens that are a critical part of their path to becoming an adult.

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