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7 Healthy Habits Your Kid Should Establish Before Going to College

Sending your teen off to college is a major moment. There may be a whole mix of emotions and thoughts at play — everything from pride and joy to hope and relief to fear and sadness. One worrying thought that’s hard not to have is this: Are they prepared? Have I taught them everything they need to know?

One way to quiet this voice — even if only a little — is to know you’ve instilled solid healthy habits into their daily, weekly, and even yearly routine. College is a time when teens and young adults are free to make their own decisions, and if you know, they’re already making healthy choices on their own, you can take solace in knowing they are set up for success.

Whether it’s as simple and practical as getting enough sleep and eating healthy(ish) or something deeper like knowing how and when to set boundaries, here are seven habits to instill in your child before they go out on their own.

Having a Consistent Sleep Pattern

College students aren’t exactly known for their healthy sleep habits, but developing a good sleep routine before they leave you rnest will help them see the value of it. “Anything you can do to get your kids into the habit of getting consistent sleep is important. Of course, they’ll be better students or workers if they aren’t tired when they arrive to class or their job, but it can also prevent them from taking risks with drugs and alcohol,” says Jenny Wood, director of prevention for the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health. “There’s a strong connection between not getting enough sleep and higher rates of smoking, binge drinking, and other kinds of substance use.”

Knowing When to Say “No”

“No” may not be anywhere as popular as “yes,” but it’s just as important — and far harder for many young people. “The use of these two simple words can do a lot for teenagers as they transcend to becoming adults. It is a skill needed to navigate the adult world,” says Josh Hastings, a high school teacher and founder of Money Life Wax. “A common knock on younger generations entering college, followed by the workforce, is their inability to address problems or tough situations. While some problems cannot be avoided, saying no can actually prevent many issues before they ever get going.”

Seeing the Doctor for Annual Check-Ups

Not waiting until you’re sick to go to the doctor is a life skill. It can not only stop illnesses and diseases before they get out of hand, but it can prevent them from ever happening in the first place. It’s also a good time to make sure all of their vaccinations are up to date.

Exercising Regularly

The freedom of being on your own for the first time can make it hard to prioritize physical activity, but if teens have the habit when they get on campus, they’ll be more likely to frequent the gym, go for runs or bike rides, or play a sport — even if it’s only for fun. “Teens should get into the habit of completing at least one hour of moderate- to high-intensity activity daily,” says Jocelyn Nadua, registered practical nurse and care coordinator at C-Care Health Services. “These habits will support a healthy cardiovascular system and will set them up to make time for movement and de-stressing during their studies later on.”

Studying Effectively

We all learn differently, but in school, we’re all more or less taught the same. This can cause teens to study like their teachers suggest when what they really need is to discover what works for them. “l literally cannot count the number of study sessions I’ve been to where everyone is mindlessly highlighting pages. While that is a great study tool, it can’t be your only one,” says Eileen Shone, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. “I found that quizzing your classmates (and being quizzed in return), teaching a concept, or even flashcards all work better. My classmates’ grades, and more importantly my grades, all went up after we started implementing better studying techniques.”

Following a Budget

Whether your teen will be entirely on their own or you’ll be helping them out, it’ll be up to them to manage their money and budget it throughout each semester. “Developing a budget and sticking to it before heading to college can help,” says Nicole Firebaugh, a recent college graduate. Even if it’s just managing a monthly allowance, it can help them get a feel for what it’s actually like. “This will be the first time many teens have to consider things that their parents used to supply for them (food, furnishings, laundry, internet, etc.), so it’s something you definitely have to be prepared for.”

Cooking and Eating Healthy on a Budget

Students may eat in the dining hall freshman year, but whether they stay on campus or move off, they’ll eventually find themselves sharing a kitchen before they graduate. “When I lived at home, my parents bought most of the groceries, and I had plenty of time and space to cook. Once I was in college and working three jobs, time was obsolete, money was thin and [I was] sharing a kitchen didn’t allow for ample cooking room.,” says Firebaugh. “If I had learned earlier how to make quick, easy, healthy and budget-friendly meals, I may not have turned to mac and cheese and pizza for cheap and fast food.”


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