How to Set Your Student Up for College Emotional Success!

This week’s newsletter comes to you from Dr. Stephanie Rooney, a psychologist who has been with PRACTICE since January of 2018.

College back to school supplies

Congratulations to all those parents with a teen who has graduated from high school this month!!! What an accomplishment to graduate in midst of a global pandemic! Now, you have only a few more months with your high school grad before he/she is off to college. Eek!

Come August, you’ll be checking off college essentials…sheets? Check! Shower caddy? Check! College mental health skills? 🤔

The first year away from home can be a challenging one – college freshmen learn to live independently while managing their college course load and navigating a whole new social world. Not surprisingly, numerous studies show high levels of emotional distress in first-year college students and increased numbers of college students seeking help on campus. As parents, we can’t shadow our kids in their freshman dorms, but we can help before they leave home by supplying them with the emotional problem-solving skills and resilience necessary to handle the rigors and life challenges that college brings.

So don’t wait for that panicked text or crying phone call. This summer you can arm your high school grad with the skills and habits to use when they become stressed or overwhelmed. (Psst, this also applies to your high schooler or college student– it’s never too early or too late!)

Here are my top three strategies to use with YOUR teen this summer in order to help them emotionally prepare for college!

1. Stop Trying to “Fix” Every Problem

Foster independent coping skills by nipping your urge to swoop in and problem solve on their behalf. As parents, we are used to jumping in when our kid is distressed, soothing hurt feelings and finding solutions. Now it’s time for your soon-to-be college student to become more self-sufficient and resourceful in tackling problems. Validate their feelings (“I see you’re really struggling right now”) and let them know it’s okay to not be okay. And when they’re ready to problem-solve, serve as a sounding board for them, brainstorming options and asking them to weigh the pros and cons of possible solutions. But don’t solve the problem for them. In essence, you’re building a bridge so your teen can start thinking on their own, all the while feeling listened to and supported by their parent

2. Practice Mindfulness with Your Teen (And Encourage Them to Develop Their Own Practice!)

The summer before starting college, it’s all too easy to focus, even obsess, on college. “Will I be homesick? Will I like my roommate? What will happen with my high school boyfriend/girlfriend?” But by focusing on the potential challenges of the future, we create anticipatory stress and anxiety about things that may or may not actually be problems we confront. So, model for your teen how to live in the present moment – not project into the future. Sometimes, being mindful is as simple as checking in with yourself right here, right now. How am I feeling internally? What can I notice around me? Even taking a few deep breaths before deciding how to handle a difficult situation improves coping ability and regulates strong, distressing emotions.

As parents, we can use these skills ourselves– and we can prompt for our kids to use them at moments of stress or distress.

3. Teach your teen to “cope ahead”

A lot of distress can be avoided by learning to plan ahead, and this applies to emotions as well. “Coping ahead” is essentially equipping ourselves to emotionally handle a potentially stressful situation. You’re heard the saying, “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.” This too applies to emotionally charged situations. If we take a moment to plan ahead and brainstorm some self-soothing strategies to use before a big test, or mood-boosting activities that might help us bounce back after a stressful day, we set ourselves up for emotional flexibility and resilience.

No formal training or individual therapy is necessary for establishing good habits and coping skills with your teen. Start early, and plan proactively– by building coping skills and establishing a plan for managing bumpy moments in advance, you are helping prepare your teen for college emotionally.

And if your teen needs extra help establishing a strong mental health foundation for starting college, we provide cognitive-behavioral therapy for young adults about to start college or already in college. Strategic short-term therapy can build skills that make and maintain college mental health. And I’m here for that.


Dr. Stephanie

If you are considering support for your college-aged student (and/or yourself!) Stephanie offers free 15 minute consultations and can be reached directly by email here.

And a final on-topic resource: we love Julie Lythcott-Haims and her books for parents and their teens/young adults!

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