Dear Beautiful You,
My son and daughter have taught me so much about the "new" college world.
It is a world filled with anxiety from the day they begin high school. Everything is geared towards college: classes, grades, tests. Even sports! It is no wonder teen anxiety is at an all-time high.
My son is a freshman at his second university, and my daughter is a high school senior who committed to a college junior year, but has since changed direction of her major and has just made a new decision on where she will be attending. I have a third child that is a freshman in high school, who is watching this process with a front row seat. I may not be considered an expert in the college process, but I am certainly in the thick of it and can give some insight on how to curb the anxiety that goes along with this fun, hectic, grueling, scary an amazing journey.
Here is what I learned so far.
And just fyi, I learned all of this from trial and error. Mistakes and tears. Tough conversations and eye opening financial obligations. Fun road trips and coach led tours. Talking with other parents, as well as incredible parent groups and forums. But mostly, I learned from my children....
Grades are important, as are test scores and specialized schools. But nothing is as important as your child's mental health. Pushing your child beyond their abilities to reach your expectations, is an ego issue, not your child's issue. Step back and think: are you pushing your child because they are capable or because you want that ivy league or division-1 sticker on the back of your car? Granted, your child can comfortably stretch and improve their grades by getting themselves motivated, tutors, college prep and group study. It is important they work hard and do thier best. But I am talking about the "If you think a 3.7 is getting you into "insert top school", you are crazy, get your grades up!" conversations, when you clearly know they are doing all they can do. Step back and take a breath. Your child will absolutely get into a college, take your ego out of it and allow them to find what works for them. Your child needs to see that you are okay with their best, no matter where that falls on the almighty grading scale.
Your child's grades are not who they are as a person. Their grades should not reflect their self-worth. Unfortunately, this happens too often, and not just with kids who are struggling in school, but also with kids who happen to have stellar grades. For the child that may not have the top grades in a world where grades seem to be everything, they may feel inadequate, or not good enough. This sets the stage for anxiety. On the other side of the coin is the student that has always had great grades, but then gets a low score on a test or a final and they completely fall apart because they were not perfect. In both instances they have tied their worth to how someone/or something on the outside is judging them. Their worth is an inside job. Remind them of that and that you love them no matter what. And for that matter, teach them that they need to love themselves no matter what. That a grade cannot determine who they are as a person and perfection is unattainable and mistakes are a path to finding who they are.
Allow them to explore in high school (or in college) different avenues and interests so they can find out what it is that they love and unearth what they may want to do in the future. If they are on only the "college ready track", they may miss the opportunities to find their gifts and what makes their heart sing. They may find that they thought they wanted to be a doctor, but really like art. Or in my son's case, thought he was going to be an engineer, but found his love in radio and television sports communication. Each child has a gift and by steering them in the direction we may think is right, we lose sight that it is not our life, but our child's life. This will create anxiety because they are unable to be true to themselves, while trying to please others. Give them their wings to fly and find love in what they wish to do.
When it comes time to apply to college, have money conversations with your child and make a spreadsheet. This helps with the financial anxiety for both parents and students. Have columns for costs, merit, scholarship, parent contribution and loan payments. This gives a clear picture both before applying and after. Each family has a unique finanical picture and what is acceptable for costs and loans. This helps the student make smart decisions not only about college, but about their future financial picture. And it empowers them about having a say in their future.
Allow your child to complete their own applications and essays. If you are freaking out about every last detail and screaming about deadlines, this raises your child's anxiety (and yours) and also sends the message to them they are not good enough to complete it on their own. They will get it done. In fact, they may even surprise you with their essays if you stay clear out of their way. When I read my daughter's, I could not stop crying. It was beautiful and from the heart. And much better than it ever would have if I stuck my nose in it.
As acceptances and rejections start pouring in, make sure you have had the conversation with them about the thousands of kids that are also applying to the same schools, with similar academic and athletic profiles. It is hard to watch your child handle a rejection. Or to get into the school they wanted to attend, but unfortunately did not get the merit or schloarship expected, so finanacially it is not a possibility. Let them process this, but with the understanding and knowledge that it is not personal. It is what it is. And to focus upon the schools that embraced them, and let go of the ones for which it did not work out. Such is life and is a great lesson on how to roll with it.
This can be a very exciting time for your child, but also very anxiety provoking. Lead by example and choose to put them and their mental health first.
What are some other ways that you have found to ease anxiety in the college process?
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Lucie Dickenson is successfully procastinating finding a publisher for her first novel, but hoping this silly behavior ends soon so she can share her words, experience and thoughts about grief A wife and mom to three unique teenagers, she is a thriving and internationally recognized writer and anxiety coach, with 25 years experience in training and business. Her passion is helping others to truly understand that their life stories hold the key to healing and connecting with others.
Certified EFT/Tapping Coach/Muscle testing Creator of the 3-Steps to Freedom Method