The 3 psychological tricks every kid should know before college ... and how to teach them

Parents typically think of college readiness in academic terms, but a new survey shows that "life skills" are also important for kids.

But are kids these days learning the life skills they need to succeed?

"The best way to look at life skills is to think about the fundamental psychological needs of our children," Hunter Gehlbach, research advisor at the education technology company Panorama Education and a professor and faculty lead of the PhD program at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, tells "If we are teaching them to form strong social connections, motivate themselves to pursue their goals, and develop self-regulation skills, we are giving them basic life skills."

In a survey of more than 3,600 subjects conducted by Panorama and market research organization YouGov, parents and non-parents said kids should learn to make careful decisions, self-regulate their emotions and collaborate with others before graduating high school.

"Whereas in the past, parents may have been more focused on grades and test scores, we've gotten smarter about the fundamental needs of students, including their mental health," says Gehlbach.

The college transition signals a "last big moment" for parents to reinforce lessons before that big leap of independence, he says.

Here are soft skills that kids should master before leaving the nest, Gehlbach says.

How to manage your time

It can be hard for parents to step back as their child leaves for college, after years of being their human alarm clock, organizing after-school activities and overseeing homework.

Selecting classes, getting out the door and studying is your child's responsibility in college, full stop.

Gehlbach suggests this visualization exercise to help kids build a schedule without overextending themselves.

"Sit down together and look at the calendar, particularly the blank spaces, a handful of which should remain empty so kids can plan for the unexpected," he says. "You can say, 'Hey, the next time you're scheduling an event, take two minutes to think about what could pop up and whether you'll have time for it."

How involved you are with your child's college schedule rests on your relationship, says Gehlbach.

"If the onus has been on the parent to help with executive functioning tasks, this might be a harsh transition for both of you," he explains.

Parents can start during senior year of high school by letting kids schedule their own medical appointments or track extracurricular activities on a family calendar.

How to make good decisions

It's easier to make the right choice when you've thought about it ahead of time, according to Gehlbach.

"We talk about things like counting to 10 or deep breathing as reasonable strategies for (gaining perspective) but it's more effective if you choose situations wisely ahead of time," says Gehlbach.

Not every crisis is preventable, so focus on the small stuff that's generally within your child's control: if he or she gets easily distracted in class, scan the room for a quieter section. Or, before going out at night, avoid unsafe situations by updating ride-share apps and plotting an exit route.

"Kids don't have to do all this work themselves — they can talk it out and get ideas from parents or friends," says Gehlbach.

How to put yourself in someone else's shoes

College is a good time for kids to re-polish their social perspective, in the company of new peers from all walks of life.

"It's hugely important for kids to form social relationships, figure out what motivates people and get better about making inferences," says Gehlbach. "We often tell ourselves stories about people's intentions, so consider multiple hypotheses."

In other words, says Gehlbach, help kids become "detectives" of character instead of "judges."

When kids have a problem, ask more questions or verbally recap what they've said, says Gehlbach. "This shows that you understand your child's perspectives." You're modelling for them the process of understanding someone else's point of view, a skill they will need.

When kids have those tools, says Gehlbach, "They'll open themselves to friendship."

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