You’ve probably got a general checklist of everything you and your child need to accomplish before they head off to college, from skills like learning to do laundry to those practical tasks like buying twin XL bed sheets. However, there’s one side of this transition that’s often overlooked, and that’s the emotional side. With increased freedom also comes increased expectations and pressures, and that can be a lot for even the most mature teen to handle. As you spend the final year preparing to send your child off, take a bit of time to incorporate the following things, too.
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Brainstorm “what if” college situations – and their solutions!
I’m a huge fan of hypotheticals. They can be fun to talk through, and they are extremely beneficial when it comes to preparing your child for life after high school. Throughout their senior year, pose certain scenarios with them and let them talk through how they’d handle them.
What will you do if you can’t cohabitate peacefully with your roommate?
Who will you go to if you’re worried about failing a class?
What will you do if you encounter someone who has had too much to drink? What if you have too much to drink?
Obviously your teen will roll their eyes… but that’s to be expected! Even if it doesn’t result in a lengthy back-and-forth, at the very least, this new situation is on their mind. The more prepared they are for the various things they’ll see and experience, the better.
Remind them of the importance of self-care.
In one of his standup specials, John Mulaney discusses his four years in college and remarks, “I didn’t drink water the entire time.” I laughed and nodded. Obviously Mulaney drank water at some point, but I got his message – college kids often do not take the best care of themselves. That’s why it’s so crucial for you to emphasize the importance of prioritizing self-care, and help your child find whatever works for them.
For example, if they’re an introvert, encourage them to turn off their phone for the evening or stay in on a Friday night. Even when they’re busy, remind them to eat a good meal, get enough sleep, and yes, drink water. Make sure to reinforce the idea that sometimes, self-care is more important than anything else.
Make plans for handling unpleasant emotions.
As an adult, you likely have a list of coping strategies to employ when you’re about to boil over. It’s easy to forget that at some point, you needed to learn those skills and practice them. Talk with your child about what sorts of ways they’ll handle big emotions. This will not only give them a game plan, but having a tool kit is a reassuring comfort in itself.
If they’re homesick or lonely while away at school, remind them that you’re only a FaceTime away. To make sure these feelings don’t overwhelm them, you can even plan weekly calls that they can look forward to. If they tend to get overwhelmed in difficult classes, lay out a strategy for managing that, whether it’s going to their professor’s office hours, mapping out the perfect library spot, or finding a study buddy. If your child is anything like I was, they’re expecting college to be all sunshine and rainbows. Talking about these potential – well, inevitable – emotions can be helpful.
Be blunt and honest about consequences for bad behavior.
I’m a proponent of positive reinforcement, but there really is a time and a place to be scared straight. As adult as your senior may seem at times, they simply aren’t fully capable of grasping long-term consequences for short-term behavior. Conversations shouldn’t be doom and gloom all the time, but it’s also important to talk about how easily things can go wrong.
Caught cheating on a test? You run the risk of being expelled. Drank too much, or accepted drinks from a stranger? You could wind up in the hospital (or worse). Stayed out late before a big exam? You slept through it, and that A is suddenly an F. No, you shouldn’t scare your child into not experiencing life, but you should remind them that spontaneous decisions can have very significant costs.
Assist them in strengthening their time management and organizational skills.
For most college kids, the newfound freedom plus increased workload is a dangerous combination that winds up leading to a whole lot of stress. By helping your senior figure out what works for them in terms of staying organized and on top of due dates and deadlines, you’ll proactively help them alleviate much of their future anxieties.
You can’t hold their hand (and you certainly won’t be able to once they’re in college), but you can help them carefully consider the tools and methods they find helpful. Maybe they need to write down everything in a planner, or maybe they find setting phone reminders works brilliantly. Maybe they need a little help to get their backpack organized or a method for organizing their computer files. Help them find the tools that will keep them on their A-game, and they’ll have a much easier time keeping up next year.