Proficiency of what is known as the “Soft Skills” is an important factor for independent adulthood. “Soft skills” refer to the ability to competently handle the social and emotional expectations and demands that occur on a college campus, in the workplace, and in daily life. When is the time to start learning and practicing these soft skills? Now! The sooner an individual masters these skills, the better the chance of success in post-high school life.
Once the daily routines of high school end with graduation, young people may find themselves at loose ends. While the sense of freedom might be thrilling, the dysregulation aspect of a schedule-less life can quickly lead to inertia and a lack of motivation to get out of bed in the morning.
Young people who are used to having parents provide them with the rhythms of daily life may struggle with creating new routines. Those who start college by living in a dorm may be overwhelmed by roommates and new friends who stay up all night, have ice cream for dinner, and experiment with drugs and alcohol.
Another factor is the reality that legal adults are held accountable for their behavior in personal, social, academic and vocational contexts. College students are expected to know the repercussions for plagiarism in school work and property damage in a dorm setting. Further, young adults need to fully understand the laws regarding drugs and alcohol, as well as the repercussions of violating these laws. They also need to be aware of safe sex practices and the importance of consent.
Start Now! A young adult’s ability to make healthy decisions regarding sleep, eating, exercise, recreation, and relationships is very important. Have your child start setting their own alarm clock in the morning and make their own decisions regarding bedtime. Teach them how to do their own laundry, buy their own snacks and toiletries, and refill their own prescriptions. Teach self-advocacy by discussing and role-playing possible conflicts with roommates such as differing attitudes about music, sleep cycles, and friends sleeping over. Prepare them for life where each day may have a different schedule. Help your child learn how to take responsibility for their actions.
Effective Communication Skills
The skill of effectively and appropriately talking with others is important. Young adults need to know that the tone used in a text to a friend is vastly different than the appropriate tone for an email to a professor or supervisor. Also, knowing how to be a good listener when engaging with friends and co-workers is also a priority.
An independent adult also needs to know how to self-advocate. A young adult needs to know how to explain what they need to others and also be able to ask for help when it is needed.
Start Now! Turn the responsibility for communication over to your young adult and provide scaffolding if needed. Have your child start scheduling their own medical appointments, as well as appointments at the hair and nail salon. Ask your child to call a restaurant to make a reservation for a family dinner, show them how to pay the check at the end of the meal and how to calculate the proper amount for a tip. Teach your child how to send a thank you note and mail a birthday card,
Appropriately Engaging with Others
Young people need to know how to get along with others. A job can provide opportunities to engage with co-workers and the possibility for new friendships. College professors frequently assign group projects with the expectation that a college student is able to interact effectively with others. A young adult needs to be able to engage with others with backgrounds, perspectives, religious beliefs, and opinions that may be different than their own.
Start Now! Encourage your child to participate in an activity that requires collaboration such as a sports team or performance group. Expose them to different cultures by trying new restaurants, exploring neighborhoods, watching movies and reading books. Practice resolving conflicts calmly with “I – statements” that acknowledge different points of view.
Develop a Growth Mindset
Have an open and honest discussion about the realities of life after high school. Let your young adult know that this is often a challenging transition and that there is likely to be a lot of ups and downs for a few years. It may be helpful for parents to share their own experiences of being a young adult and their failures, heartbreaks, and success. Discuss that setbacks are a natural part of life and valuable experience can be learned when life doesn’t go as planned.
Start Now! Do not “fix” the daily challenges that your child may face. Show them the steps they need to take to resolve problems that may arise such as getting a flat tire, or forgetting an important appointment. Cheer on their progress and help them to build a foundation of success.
Young people who learn the “soft skills” of self-management, effective communication, appropriate engagement with others, and having a growth mind-set are likely to find success in life. There will always be some bumps along the road, but life is all about learning to navigate the journey.