As a parent, it can be challenging to watch your children face obstacles without stepping in and taking charge.

As they approach college, they’ll need to start developing soft skills to be successful. “The instinct to protect and solve can ironically be the most damaging in the long run,” says Sara McMickle, head of the Office of College Counseling at Léman Manhattan Preparatory School in New York City. “If students do not learn how to face conflict, problem-solve on their own, and figure out where to get help, they will struggle.”

Although hard skills such as writing, reading and mathematics are important to college, soft skills are crucial to your student’s transition into adulthood and encourage the ability to learn, communicate and become independent as they begin their college journey.

For Angela Rinaudo, a Staten Island, NY, mom of a college sophomore and high school senior, guiding them toward independence is directly related to their success. “They both took charge of their college applications and managed their acceptances and scholarships. I encouraged them both to get part time jobs and open their own bank accounts, and they each have cars and are responsible for their own gas. As a parent I couldn’t be more proud to see the young adults I have raised,” she says.

As college approaches, here are the four key soft skills your student needs in order to thrive:

Problem solving

“As students’ interpersonal relationships develop and their worlds become more complex, they will face new conflicts that they can’t just Google to find the answer,” says McMickle. Problem-solving is a skill they will use all their lives, but it requires practice.

As a parent, you’re doing a disservice to your teen if you try to solve everything for them. For example, McMickle says, if they are upset about a grade they got on a test, help them work through where the disappointment is coming from and possible solutions. Did they not put in enough study time, are they struggling with the material or were they confused with a teacher’s grading practice?

“Understanding what they want to solve can help identify how to approach a way to solve it,” says McMickle. Once you’ve talked it through, then it’s really up to your student to take the next step to resolution, such as requesting a meeting with the teacher to go over the exam.

Time Management

When your student is away at college, they won’t have mom and dad to remind them to study, or that they have a due date approaching. Strong time management is vital in college, especially since fewer hours are spent in the classroom, putting more onus on the student to read and study on their own.

Teens who are already juggling school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs are already learning time management. But it’s up to parents to keep that momentum going by stepping back from micromanaging their schedules.

Praise goes a long way, too, says Dr. Susan Smith Kuczmarski, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. “When your college-bound teen manages an assignment and gets it in on time without procrastinating, offer the right kind of praise. It is a powerful tool when executed correctly,” she says.

If your teen is on the shy side, getting them to speak up is key.

Try acknowledging their strengths from their own point of view. “Instead of ‘I think you did a nice job on your Spanish test,’ try ‘You must be so happy that all that studying paid off, and you aced your Spanish exam’,” says Kuczmarski. Over time, praise of this kind will help students realize their own strengths and achievements and encourages them to be better time managers.


Especially in the digital age, some teens might not be comfortable advocating for themselves – things they will need to do when they’re living on their own. Strong communication skills will also help their academics, as college professors expect students to make meaningful contributions during class.

“I often work with students who are uncomfortable talking to other adults, making phone calls, or asking questions,” says McMickle. “I remind them that most people feel that way at some point in their life, it takes practice and it’s okay to be uncomfortable.”

If your teen is on the shy side, getting them to speak up is key, whether by having them make their own dentist appointment or e-mail their college of choice to follow up on their application. “Giving them lots of opportunities to ‘talk’ is the very best way to teach these skills,” says Kuczmarski. “When parents do it for them, they really don’t learn how to engage socially with others, or reach out and ask questions.”


Having the chance to be a leader is something that will benefit students throughout their lifetime. While this skill can’t exactly be taught, parents can encourage teens to join groups, clubs, organizations and activities where they have the opportunity to hone those skills. “Extracurricular activities are ideal places for teens to explore and practice what it means to be a group leader,” says Kuczmarski.

Once they find an activity they like, you will be amazed at their rapid rate of growth and maturation — and surprised at the talents that emerge, she adds.

Providing your teen with more freedom and less hovering — along with a healthy dose of encouragement to take on new challenges at home, at school and at work — will help shape these all-important soft skills. As Rinaudo says, “teaching your kids to be independent at a young age has a payoff when they go off on their own.”

And once they have improved their problem-solving, time management, communications and leadership abilities, you can feel confident that they are well prepared for college and beyond.