Ah, College Application Season.
The moment your child has ostensibly been working toward for the past 13 years at school. It’s time to let all of those extracurricular activities, leadership positions, grades, teacher recommendations, standardized test scores and admissions essays shine! It’s an exciting time! And, an extraordinarily stressful time. Below are some tips for how you can support your child through this high-stakes, and often, emotionally taxing process.
Expectations and perspective can go a very long way in framing the college application process. For students, and parents, the stress can, understandably, run very high. Doing our best to manage expectations and keep perspectives realistic can be incredibly vital for young people – consider your role in this as a friendly “reality check.” For teens, managing their own expectations surrounding personal achievement throughout this process can be a steep challenge. As parents, we know our children’s’ inherent value is tied to a lot more than just their academic success, but the college application process is a time when that boundary can become murky. If a top choice school rejects your child, it’s natural for them to be upset and, often, it can be easy for your child to feel that the rejection is a reflection of their self-worth or inherent value. When these conversations come up, it can be very useful to reframe the situation for your child. Help them shift their perspective by first validating your child’s feelings surrounding potential rejections. Empathize with them and affirm their feelings. Treat their feelings with sincerity and gravity —take it seriously and listen. Start by reminding them that regardless of where they attend college, what matters most is who they are as a person – and that there is not one right path or road for anyone. It is critical for us as parents to be aware of our own emotional state and keep our priorities in check – namely, raising kind, thoughtful, and well-rounded children. Talking about what matters most to you and your family can be very grounding during this process and remind everyone in the family to take deep breaths. Once you’ve done that, help them “zoom out” and gain some much-needed perspective to help them reframe the situation. Channel your inner Carl Sagan from Cosmos and his iconic “Pale Blue Dot” short video (available on YouTube!). Remind your child that they are worth so much more than where they get into school – remind them that their value is not tied to external markers of achievement like admissions letters.
In addition, it is important to have conversations with your children about recognizing signs of stress and utilizing healthy coping skills – it’s a topic we often glaze over in our busy and over-scheduled lives. However, paying attention to our emotional states and finding successful coping strategies actually helps children perform better academically, and provides a strong framework for social emotional health. Encourage your children to try coping strategies that are healthy and work toward reducing the stressor: like mindfulness or creating study schedules. Additionally, getting exercise or some fresh air with your child is a great way to reduce stress. Encourage your children to avoid coping skills that are maladaptive (things that may work to decrease stress short-term but do not address underlying needs, such as substance use or avoidance and procrastination). Make space for your child to process and speak about their stressors and feelings – often, being a good listener is just the support a child needs in this process. Making coping skills a priority now will pay off—your child will be better equipped to deal with stress now, and, in the future when they might not be living at home.
Ellie Sachs is a Hallways’ Prevention Educator, working with students to help them develop positive relationships, and teach them skills for healthy decision-making, assertive communication, enacting empathy, and other important tools for a purposeful life.