Getting your kid ready for life after high school

Parenting gets very real for parents of high school kids in the spring. I’ve been talking to moms and dads who are trying not to freak out about their kids heading off into the world on their own. Are they ready? Are you? Here’s a crash course in the four pillars for kids to know before they leave the nest.


There’s still time for a speedy course in Heading Out Into The World 101.

From one parent to another, remember that a sense of humor goes a long way to reduce the stress that goes along with change. A lot can be accomplished in the next few months! Decide what’s most important, and start from there.

These suggestions are helpful for younger students as well. The sooner they're comfortable with these responsibilities, the stronger their habits will be when they're off on their own.

Do you feel like you have so much more to teach your children before they leave home? Join the club! Have faith that your kids know more than you think. However, they may also have a few big knowledge gaps that can be addressed now, while they are still at home.


Many high school students aren’t aware of some basic life skills that parents take for granted. It’s certainly not because they’re lazy. They may be so busy and dedicated to school, activities and after-school jobs that they aren’t home when the “real life” chores and responsibilities happen. They don’t know what they don’t know.

Now is the time to help them learn the crucial life skills that will reduce their stress and increase their success when living on their own.

The four pillars of knowledge to empower teens to become confident and independent are Basic Life Skills, Personal Life Skills, Finances and Money Management, and Health and Medical Knowledge.


Pillar #1:  Basic Life Skills

Basic Life Skills are the everyday tasks involved in daily living. Suddenly, you might be realizing that your teen is completely clueless about some of these. Don’t panic. Now is the best time to let them begin learning and doing for themselves. 


There’s more to eating than grabbing a yogurt in the morning and a box of pasta at night. Bring them into the kitchen and cook with them. The ability to put together a few simple dishes quickly and easily will greatly improve their self-confidence, nutrition and energy. Give them a turn in the kitchen a few times a week. Encourage their efforts.


Lots of parents share that they’ve done too much here, and realize that their kids don’t have basic everyday cleaning skills. Here’s a quick checklist to review.

  • Change sheets every weekly, change up towels more often.

  • Fix the bed every day. This simple 30-second habit is proven to kick off the day with positive feelings. In just a few seconds, there's a quick sense of accomplishment to build on. It’s a quick win. It’s also the biggest piece of furniture in a dorm room, so when it looks neat, it goes a long way toward making the room look better. It’s easy to pull up a comforter!

  • Clean up after themselves - dishes, glasses, makeup, grooming accessories.

  • Clean bathrooms - Let them own this job if they’ve never had to clean a bathroom before. It’s easy. Learn to scrub a sink, toilet and shower. Keep the room relatively tidy by putting things away when they're done. Who knows, they might have a new sense of appreciation for the behind-the-scenes work that's been going on around them for years. 

  • Clean out the refrigerator - Toss leftover food. Get rid of mystery science experiment containers. 


Laundry is the source of some of the funniest college survival stories! Having a smart kid who excels in school has nothing to do with whether they know how to do laundry. Experience is what matters. Getting them to be comfortable with the sorting and timing now will help reduce the stress that comes with adjusting to life at school. They will need to learn how to find a time in their schedule that works for them, as well as a time that washing machines are available.

  • Read labels - What gets dry cleaned, what gets washed separately, special handling, sorting colors. How to avoid having a new red towel turning all the whites a lovely shade of pink can avoid a lot of frustration.

  • Learn how to sew a button on a shirt

  • Know how to iron a shirt or pair of pants

  • Wash sheets and towels regularly. Tip: sending teens off with lots of towels and sheets pretty much guarantees that they will never be washed. Send one spare set of sheets and 4-6 towels.

  • Figure out the best time of day or night to find available washers and dryers

  • Don’t leave clothing in a washer or dryer, or someone else will dump it out

  • Use an app or set a timer as a reminder when washing and drying is done


Pillar #2: Personal Life Skills

Personal Life Skills enable people to find the strength and courage to live on their own. The inner work is an important piece that gives them the skills to bounce back, make confident decisions, stay grounded and use the resources that are available to them.


Resilience is a crucial skill that allows people to bounce back when things are tough.

  • Mistakes are really opportunities to learn and grow

  • Failure is part of life’s journey

  • Things don’t always go our way, and learning to adapt and respond in a healthy way is part of growing up

  • Encourage teens to advocate for themselves, whether they are asking to be reconsidered after being on a wait list, are shut out of a class they were counting on, or are learning to navigate living with roommates

  • Everybody has good days and bad days, and it’s important both to celebrate the good ones, and accept that some days don’t go as planned

  • Find a hobby or activity (running, yoga, writing, biking, etc.) that shifts them to a positive mindset

  • Ask for help


Balance is about finding the optimal mix of school, work, play, sleep, social life, and activities. Sometimes there’s more free time, sometimes there’s very little. Flexibility and being aware of how they are feeling and adapting is key. Both work and play have a place at school to help with the stresses of life. 

Time management

Time management is important to successfully navigating life. How do your teens do with managing their studying, working and socializing now? The last two years of high school are an excellent time for students to own their many pressing responsibilities. Choosing and prioritizing, foresight and scheduling are tools that can help them now and always.  

 Step back, and let them step up and learn about the importance of the choices they make.

If they aren't doing this yet, it's time for high school kids to manage their time. That includes waking up on time, allowing enough time for studying, showing up on time for work, leaving enough time to allow for catching a train or sitting in traffic. 

Step back, and allow them to begin owning their decisions. Let them own the consequences if they miss deadlines so that they can learn from the experience. Be open-minded, and be there to support them if they ask for guidance.

Personal safety

Personal safety is a crucial skill. Empowering teens to be responsible for their safety without stressing all of the things that can go wrong is a bit of a balancing act for parents. As a parent, you will not always now where they are, who they’re with, and when they are back at night like you do now. Our job as parents is to allow them to grow up and become independent, while doing our best to set them up for success. Some of these can be done now (self-defense), others are helpful discussion topics.

  • Take a self-defense class with friends - it can be fun and empowering

  • Dating safety awareness - understand how to spot red flags in relationships. Trust their gut feelings. Encourage them to get help if they have any concerns.There are lots of resources on campus, and online. Check out Love Is Respect at

  • Be aware of their surroundings, and the people they are with. In high school, they are more likely to be with people they know. In college, they will be with new acquaintances. Reinforce now, while they’re home, how to exit uncomfortable situations safely.

  • Drugs and alcohol - be aware of surroundings, unattended drinks, gut feelings

  • Discuss what to do in the face of alcohol or drug abuse or overuse, including how to help a friend who may need emergency services or Good Samaritan laws. Help them understand when life-saving measures may be needed, whether in high school or later.


Self-advocacy means knowing how to get what they need. Living away for the first time can be overwhelming, but the stress can be reduced when they have the skills and knowledge to ask for help.

High schoolers practice self-advocacy by owning the college application process. All contact with colleges should be from students, not parents. Colleges are recruiting students who are able to handle the responsibility of getting in without calls from parents. 

Encourage them to ask for help at any time, before it feels like they’re in over their heads. They'll be stronger and more prepared the more they take ownership of their lives.

When they're in college, they will be advocating for themselves and will be prepared for success if they start now.  In college, they will be equipped to comfortably ask for a tutor at any time. To use the health resources. To get to know professors and teaching assistants, and use office hours. To learn how to override closed out classes.

Getting around independently

Getting around independently is an exciting new freedom that brings responsibility. Give them the tools to learn how to get around confidently in a new and unfamiliar place.

  • Cars - Allow them more freedom to drive while they are still at home. If city driving is going to be new to them, start getting experience now. AAA offers student memberships. Learn how to check washer fluid, oil, change a tire and use jumper cables. Use a parking app to find reasonable parking and avoid being towed.

  • Public transportation - If this will be their new way of getting around, have them start by planning trips with friends this summer. Learn to read train and bus schedules.


Pillar #3: Finances and Money Management

Finances and Money Management are crucial skills for teens to learn before they’re off on their own. Learning to be responsible with finances goes to a new level when teens are out of the house. Financial habits that you may do as second nature are skills that your kids will need to learn and master. Some of the most important ones to work on are:

  • Writing checks (not common anymore, but still required for certain transactions), addressing and stamping the envelope, recording into checkbook

  • Reconciling bank statements

  • Budgeting wisely ( is an excellent, positive resource)

  • Understanding the importance of building a strong credit score

  • Opening bank accounts and understanding the costs of doing business with banks (overdrawing, using ATMs, other charges)

  • Security - protecting passwords, debit card fraud, how to immediately report errors

  • What to do if a credit or debit card is lost or compromised

  • Discuss the amount of money (if any) that you will provide them for living and school expenses.

  • Let them know how often you will deposit money. Monthly deposits help teens to learn how to budget far more easily than one larger deposit for the semester.

  • Be clear about student loans and who will be responsible for paying them later on.

  • Discuss scholarships, and what must happen in order to keep them. What are the financial consequences if a scholarship is lost? Parents and students should know what can impact a scholarship (GPA, discipline, injuries, taking time off from school, changing majors, transferring, etc.).


Pillar #4: Health and Medical Knowledge

Health and Medical Knowledge empowers teens to be responsible for their health and wellness.

  • Carry insurance card

  • Know that social security numbers do NOT have to be provided to medical providers, even when requested

  • Understand how their insurance plan works, and coverage may be affected if they move out of state. Understand in-network and out-of network benefits and how to use each.

  • Get comfortable making doctors appointments and completing paperwork

  • Encourage them to schedule all health appointments beginning immediately

  • Know family health history, allergies, emergency contact info, etc.

  • Discuss HIPAA regulations. Parents no longer have any access to medical information without specific permission once teens turn 18. Young adults can decide how to proceed with information sharing in a way that feels most comfortable to them.

  • Have them become familiar with completing and submitting insurance forms

This list hopefully gives you more insight into not only the areas to work on, but also the skills your teen already has. There's always room to grow. But they already know a lot! Keep it positive. 

Strengthening the four pillars of basic life skills, personal life skills, financial and money management, and health and medical knowledge will give them even more confidence and know-how to live on their own with greater ease. 

Putting a plan in place to develop specific areas will reduce some of the stress that is perfectly normal during the final stretch. The final days of high school can push even the sanest parents over the edge at least once! With summer ahead, there's time to get your teen comfortable and up to speed. Recognize what they already are doing well. Use the time between now and when they leave for school as an on-ramp to living life on their own with greater ease.

Denise Fountain is a Life Transformation Coach and Certified Professional Coach. She works with women going through transitions to rediscover themselves and create lives that are happy, healthy and whole again. Together with her clients, she explores the connection between stress, health and happiness, and guides her clients to move forward to make lasting and sustainable changes. She is passionate about helping women live their best lives. Sign up for updates while you’re on this site! Contact her at to learn more about how Denise can partner with you to create the life you dream of.