Student Life

Accentuate the Possibilities: How to Support Your Kid as They Prepare for College

Do you find yourself:

  • Sorting through college applications with your high school senior (on a daily basis)?
  • Running tuition numbers (both while awake and asleep)?
  • Replaying a non-stop mental loop of every single parental choice you have ever made?
  • Waking up (and going to sleep) wondering how your child could possibly be ready for college?
  • Feeling alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) thrilled and stressed, excited and nervous, overjoyed and bordering on tears?

If you recognize the symptoms above, you may be suffering from collegeparentitis. 

Collegeparentitis hits over 4 million families every year, right about…now. Left unchecked, it can take over your life for the next six months, and well into the better part of the next half-decade. But fortunately, there is a cure.

All jokes (and amateur diagnosis) aside, how could you NOT be concerned about how to support your college-aged student during their critical freshman year and beyond? Your babies are about to move out, go solo, and leave the nest. Who knows what awaits them out there on campus?

There will be no greater year of transition for both your student and yourself than that first year of college, and while you feel in your bones that your reins need to loosen a little, you are still a powerful and guiding force in their life. You are still several months out from making the long drive to leave your child in the middle of residential life (and the even longer drive back home), all the time that you need to take advantage of the incredible opportunity to back out of the room of their life and leaving with them the skills they need to not only survive, but to thrive during their bold next step forward.

College students are more stressed and anxious today than they have ever been (and the numbers keep climbing). Science is showing us that just a few tweaks here and there can turn a college experience from woeful to wonderful, and guess what mom and dad — they STILL can’t do it without you.

Balance your input

Whether they are prepping for the big goodbye, or home for weekend break, it’s tempting to rattle off a list of things your son or daughter needs to improve. While it’s still your responsibility to manage their care, too much weighing in can be read negatively from someone trying to navigate the new rules of college living.  

Besides, you may or may not know what is genuinely happening in their new lives out of the nest. They may be reliving something stupid they said in front of someone they wanted to impress, reeling from showing up the first day of class without the right books or had their tail handed to them on the ball field. Heck, they may just be on edge about leaving the comforts and stability of home.

The best bet is to begin by just…listening. Give them an ear or a shoulder. They may be 18, but inside a lot of them just need to be 8 again and have a parent who loves without judgement. When it comes to feedback, be sure that it is both constructive and complementary. Studies show that people who focus on their strengths are far more likely to be engaged in tasks at hand, push through barriers, and succeed. So while coaching them to avoid pitfalls, remember to point out the things at which they are excelling. Positive reinforcement from a parent goes further than you think. Don’t be afraid to tell your student that you are proud of them.

Help them see the possibilities.

If can be tough to see the opportunities when you are buried under a mountain of challenges. New peeps, new classes, new…well…everything. So don’t be surprised if you see your kiddo flash signs of seeing the downside of things (“I can’t keep up in any of my classes” / “I am overwhelmed” / “Nobody will ever want to go out with me” etc.).

What’s key here is that that they limit the downside of bad events to those specific events. If they get dumped, remind them that this was ONE person, not the entire female universe. If they do poorly on a test, remind them that it was ONE test in ONE subject rather than every test in every course. If they have a rough day in practice, remind them that tomorrow is another opportunity to show why they belong on the team.

Not only can we learn to be optimists, but optimism in college freshmen predicts higher GPAs, more creativity, and better social experiences (and a higher winning percentage on the athletic field).

Remind them to make time for what they love.

For many, college can be a pressure cooker of stress. Competition can be fierce and perfectionism exacerbated when a student feels that they have to be actively succeeding all the time. Help your highly-focused and driven student strike that balance by reminding them to make room for what they love to do. A fancy word for this is self-care and it’s a highly encouraged practice for anyone.  

Maybe your nursing student has always loved to paint. In your next care package, send some art supplies reminding her to take time for her hobby. Send your little pamperer some pampering with a gift box of skin care products. Buy your golfer a few rounds at a nearby course. Not only that, but be sure to ask them about how these passions are going throughout the semester so that they know how supportive you are of them. Researchers at the University of Montreal find that pursuing personal passions not only helps people realize higher levels of positive emotion throughout the day, but raises the odds that they will find passion in their other pursuits (like in the classroom).

Collegeparentitis is rampant these days, but like any challenge in life, you can use it as an opportunity to get even stronger, in this case for both you and your kiddo. Freshman year of college is a lot for an 18 year-old to manage, and your contributions during this time are not only helpful, they are essential to build sound coping skills and create a balance that will help them throughout their life. Now is the time for laying this important groundwork in their lives, and you may find it tremendously relieving to know that your work here is not even close to done!

“U-Thrive” is available online and at booksellers. As a speaker, teacher, and strengths-based performance coach, Daniel Lerner is an expert in positive and performance psychologies. His key theme is that developing a healthy psychological state has a profound impact on the pursuit of excellence—a message that he brings to students, high-potential performing artists and athletes, and executives at Fortune 500 companies and startups worldwide. Following a decade representing and developing young performing artists with ICM artists and 21C Media (which he co-founded), Lerner studied closely with renowned sports psychologist Dr. Nathaniel Zinsser, focusing on coaching and performance enhancement techniques employed by professional and Olympic athletes, before earning a graduate degree in Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Lerner is a faculty member at NYU Langone Medical Center and is on the instructional staff in the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program his alma mater. “The Science of Happiness”, co-taught with Alan Schlechter, is currently the largest and most popular non-required course at New York University. In the classroom and in his talks, Lerner integrates storytelling, humor, and science, helping students and professionals apply his teachings into their lives with immediate benefit.


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