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Teach Your College Student Independent Life Skills

Kimberly Yavorski

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You’ve probably noticed that the word “adult” is now a verb, as in “I don’t want to adult today” or “adulting is hard.” Perhaps you’ve heard these exact words tumbling from your college student’s lips.

Like it or not, the adult world awaits and they need to be ready for it, especially if they’ll transition from on-campus to off-campus housing any time soon.

Adulting encompasses numerous mundane activities: grocery shopping, cooking, money management, even just making their own appointments. Ideally you start modeling and teaching these skills in high school, but you can play catch up any time your college student is home for a break. Invite them to help or look on ­— it doesn’t have to be obvious you’re trying to teach a lesson!

Cook Together

Pick a day to bond while cooking dinner or brunch together. Dig out a family recipe or experiment with a new cuisine (find recipes in cookbooks or online). If time permits, you could try homemade pasta or pizza dough, or start early in the day to prep a slow cooker recipe.

First they should help you assemble an ingredient list. What's on hand and what do you need to buy? Where do the spices and cooking oils live, anyway? Have your student handle initial steps like pre-heating the oven and filling a pot with water to boil. Try not to laugh when you realize they don’t know how to set the timer on the stove. It may feel like teaching a toddler, because it is. Talk through what you’re doing, and break down the steps.

Fun idea: Create your own cooking challenge by planning a menu around what you have in the fridge and pantry. And with any meal, remind them it’s okay if it doesn’t turn out perfectly. Sometimes even Bobby Flay is a flop.

Thread the Needle

Clothes are less expensive than they used to be, so many of us are in the habit of tossing garments aside as soon as they get the tiniest rip. But it’s not hard to master basic stuff like replacing a button or fixing a loose seam or hem. YouTube has video tutorials if your own skills are rusty. In a pinch, duct tape works to secure a hem and will last through several wash cycles.

Dial Up the Doctor

Older teens and young adults resist using their phones for actual conversations, but it’s still often the only or best way to make an appointment. You probably taught your child to answer the phone when they were young and hovered nearby to coach them on what to say. You can do the same thing now with a call to the doctor, dentist, auto mechanic, etc. If needed, suggest they listen to you make a call first. There’s nothing wrong with preparing a little “script” ahead of time, either.

Nuts and Bolts

Renters don’t have to worry about most maintenance but your student should know how to handle simple repairs so they don’t have to wait on the landlord. A basic toolkit (hammer, flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers, pliers, wrench, nails and a tape measure) makes it possible to hang pictures and tighten door knobs and hinges, as well as fix wobbly furniture, a leaky faucet or a loose toilet seat. (A toilet plunger and instructions on how to use it are also useful!) Employees at the local hardware store or Home Depot can help with how-to or, again, there’s always YouTube.


Is it time for your student to get their own auto and/or renters insurance? Step back and let them do the research. Suggest they contact multiple companies to compare coverage and rates (make sure the rates they’re comparing offer the same coverage). Then sit down together and have them go over the details with you before they make a decision.

In the event they have to file a claim, it’s important they understand how deductibles work and what is and isn’t covered by their policy. It’s also worth talking through what they should do if they ever get in an accident (pull over, call 9-1-1, contact insurance company, etc.).

Look Under the Hood

While today few people handle their own car repairs or routine maintenance, at the very least, your student should know how to open and secure the hood to refill washer fluid and check the oil. They should also know how frequently the oil should be changed, how to check tire tread and air pressure, and what to do if the pressure is low. Look through the owner’s manual with them so they know what the warning lights mean and their relative levels of urgency.

If you don’t have AAA or a similar roadside assistance membership, show them how to jump start a car and change a flat tire.

Have Fun!

Your student might be surprised. Being an adult really isn't so bad. We're all in this together!

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Kimberly Yavorski is a freelancer and mom of four who writes frequently on the topics of parenting, education, social issues, travel and the outdoors. Her work has been published in Grown & Flown, Your Teen, Sammiches and Psych Meds, Her View From Home, Pacific Standard, The Progressive, Racked, and Reader’s Digest.
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