Forward: Welcome Intern Karley Knight back for her continued perspective of a college student giving advice to novice college parents….if you missed her last post find it here with her sharing about the big transition from high school to college.
It’s that time of year again.
The weather is getting cooler, people are digging out their favorite boots and jeans from the depths of their closets, everything is pumpkin spice flavored, and everyone is already counting down the days until Christmas. But as the leaves change colors and begin to disappear from the trees, so does the mental sanity of college students.
Finals week is unique in the world of stress because it entails both a sense of urgency and a perpetual feeling of being unprepared. Even though your student studied for weeks, written copious amounts of colorful notes and highlighted every sentence in the book (because of course every sentence is a possible test question) in most cases the feeling of pure confidence is rare. As a parent who wants to protect their kid from such distress and dislikes seeing them in much turmoil, what are you to do? Sadly, there isn’t much you can do to take away the panic your child is feeling, but just because you can’t eliminate that stress doesn’t mean that you can’t alleviate it a little bit. Here are some suggestions to best support your frazzled college student as they prepare for hell (or finals) week:
Watch Your Communication
Whether you’ve been talking to your student twice a week since they’ve left or once a month, your communication dynamic is about to change. Conversations will now focus on the monstrous tests that loom in their future, how sleep deprived they are, and other things parents don’t want to hear. It is typical for you to want to check in on your child even more during finals season because you know it’s a difficult time for them, but I advise against this. Recognize that your student is probably immersed in studying and involved in study groups, so constantly calling will just add to their distress and distract them from studying.
Now this doesn’t mean that you should ignore them completely, but don’t helicopter them. Whenever your child explains their anxious feelings they aren’t expecting you to solve the problem, instead what they are seeking is comfort and reassurance from their loved ones. When you do talk to your student, make sure your interactions are positive and always end on a good note (“I love you” or “I’m sending you money” [a personal favorite]).
Encourage them to do their Best, not Be the Best
High school and college differ most in environment and grades. It’s easier to expect A’s and excellent academic performance in high school because the classes are much easier compared to what they take in college. In many classes, the score of the final exam has the power to dictate what the final grade of the course is, meaning that even if they ace all of the other assignments a poor final grade could tank the overall course grade. It’s VERY important to assure your student that you are expecting them to do the best they can do and put in as much effort as they can, but remind them that you’re not expecting them to be Einstein. Don’t make your child feel like they would be returning home as a failure if they don’t get a perfect score on their exams. Instead, whenever you’re having those positive conversations with your student, include how you will love them no matter what grade they get and that you believe in them. Fueling their self-esteem will make them feel more confident and competent going into their exams.
Remind them of the importance of Self-Care
It’s easy for students to get caught up in the hype of finals week and follow the bad examples set by their peers of not getting adequate rest, eating nutritious things, or even neglecting to keep up their personal hygiene (it happens and its gross). But even with less extreme cases, it’ still common for your student to develop bad habits while they’re preparing for finals because they’re too preoccupied with making their final grade a priority instead of taking a step back and taking care of themselves. What they don’t realize is that by neglecting to fulfill their needs and allowing their mind to recharge, their stress will only increase and their studying won’t be as effective. Remind them that while grades are important, it shouldn’t come at the cost of their own destruction. Taking care of your human is more important than taking care of your GPA- no matter what their college adviser says. Here are some basic reminders that I think all college students should be reminded of regarding personal care during finals week:
1. Pizza is not a food group.
2. Energy drinks are not a food group or a substitute for sleep. They’ll ultimately make you feel shaky and sick because you’ve been chugging 5 hour energy drinks (or whatever cheap gasoline-like energy fluid of choice) every day without eating
3. If you’re drinking more than 3 cups of coffee a day then you need to take a serious nap because that is also NOT okay
4. SHOWER. Non-negotiable
5. Indulge in small snacks and sweets every now and then to reward yourself, but don’t make that the only thing you’re eating.
6. Take a run or workout, the endorphins will make you feel better (and I like to think I’m literally running from my problems)
Give them something to look forward to
One of the tools I find very effective in providing some emotional relief during such a taxing time is to give your student something to look forward to. If all they can see in their future is a dark, dreary raincloud of hard tests and potential failure, it can be very discouraging and puts your child at risk for depression. Putting a bright light and promise of greener pastures in their future creates a ‘finish line’ of sorts on finals to remind students that although it may not feel like it, finals season does not last forever. Whether it’s mentioning a fun winter vacation or just promising them that they’ll return home to nice home cooked meals again, getting them exciting about something will do wonders for their motivation. Adding an end date to a hard time makes surviving it much easier. It encourages your child to do well in the present in order to enjoy what they’re looking forward to in the future.
Don’t underestimate the power of a Care Package!
Every now and then my mom will send me a small package of goodies in the mail. Whether its a surprise or not, it never fails to bring me so much joy. Having someone send me a considerate ‘thinking of you’ gift from home makes me feel so supported and revives my spirit. I highly encourage parents to ship their student a box of goodies to send some love their way (if your student attends community college consider just surprising them with something). It can be filled with anything from gift cards, snacks, supplies, or even just a handwritten card. This will provide your student with so much comfort and will be much appreciated.
Check out our Pinterest board for ideas
Every student deals with stress differently and every college structures their finals week differently, so take my advice with a grain of salt. But even though finals week will differ amongst campuses, you can bet that the colder the weather gets, the stronger the student stress. This is an important time for you to reach out to your student and show them your support, I promise it will bring you closer together if you comfort them during this hellish time.
I have this ache, a pit in my stomach, a tightening in my throat as if I’m going to throw up or have to swallow hard to hold back…. Something like that. It’s a pain, a fear for my children, of my children feeling pain – their own pain. My pain. I wish I could protect them from it all but, I know I can’t and I hate this.
This school year has been an awakening in many ways. My son entering kindergarten has been more than an entry into tardy bells, PTA meetings, last minute projects, car pool lines, and site words; it has been an introduction to the possibility of my kid being hurt, feeling hurt and me not being there to protect him. This, for me, is tough.
1) Engage, engage, engage.
It would be so much easier if we knew everything that went on while we were away. Better still, if our kids told us themselves. But, this is not always the case. So asking questions that inspire a thoughtful response is key. Think open ended questions such as, “Who did you play with today?” Instead of “Did you play at recess today?” Or “Who was nice today?” versus “Was everyone nice today?” Even if your kid doesn’t have a specific response to these questions it opens the door to get a conversation going instead of being shut down by a one word answer.
2) “What do you think about that?”
3) Believe in the power of resilience.
Sometimes you stumble upon something that grips your heart and your life. And without seeking it, it becomes you. Other times, your passions in life are because of the things that you pursue, and you work hard to get them. Ironically, adoption is a huge piece of my life both because we stumbled upon it and because we fought hard in seeking it.
This is a broad statement that I believe needs to be spoken at any adoption training, because adoption isn’t all rainbows and glitter. All adoption starts with unspeakably difficult losses for many involved. There isn’t an adoption that doesn’t start in this way, even though there are many happy, redeeming qualities to adoption. To ignore the loss is unwise and unfair. The visual of seeing an orphanage is life altering and not at all glossy coated and or manipulative in the way organizations that seek money portray these places. It is gritty. Every child without parents in any location anywhere in the world carries that loss in their eyes.
Many people will say that infant adoption is an exception to this because the child is so young that they don’t remember the loss. Of course they don’t remember, just like many toddlers won’t remember things that have occurred to them as they grow older. That doesn’t make it less traumatic for them, however. They’ve experienced a loss that should be acknowledged. And at different stages of life, they’ll need to process the loss differently, and they’ll most likely need their adoptive parents to help them flesh all of that out with them. They do not have the genetic makeup of their adoptive parents, and it is healthy for them to express sadness over that.
There are two types of memories: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic memories are the kind we usually talk about: we all have memories we talk about from childhood or know someone who has an amazing memory and can tell lots of stories from the past. Intrinsic memories, however, are memories that are locked into the body of a person, into their minds and emotions. For example, as infants begin to learn trust (versus mistrust), they figure out that the world is a safe place and that their parents will take care of them. If an infant hasn’t received that kind of basic love and nurture or has had inconsistency in caregivers, they get stuck in that stage and don’t learn trust as readily. Their bodies and emotions remember, even though their minds won’t recall the details. THAT is intrinsic memory.
I want to share a little bit about how parenting can look a little bit different when keeping attachment in mind. This can cause a little bit of loneliness in parenting unless you seek out other like-minded parents. Having other adoptive parents as friends has been life giving for us.
In everything we do as parents, we keep attachment in the back of our minds. Sometimes it’s in the forefront of our minds. There will never be a day that we say, “Okay, we are done with attachment work.” For us, it doesn’t work like that. Instead, we will forever be teaching our children that we are consistent, we are unconditional, we are forever, and we are an authority in their lives for their good. Depending on the child’s response to various situations they’ve faced, many times the ability to self soothe is less with a child who was adopted (especially with older child adoptions). We will give our kids the time and space to cool down, and we will give them the power and control to get a compromise sometimes when other parents wouldn’t do that.
We might let our kids do regressive things, like keeping a pacifier or a bottle later or rocking them to sleep for way longer than what is typical. We’ve missed those critical moments in their first years of life, you see, so we have to let them regress emotionally to those stages so that they can learn to trust. It looks different sometimes, but it is so much more than worth it, because we know the strength of the bonds we’ve forged by now in this family.
We won’t use physical punishment, and even our time outs will be different, because we won’t physically remove them from our presence. We will instead draw them near to us when they misbehave (using a time in), because we want them to know that even in their worst moments, we aren’t going anywhere. They have nothing to fear; we are forever, and our love doesn’t come and go with bad behavior (although they still will certainly have a consequence for any crime). Sometimes kids who have been through hard times as babies may have some sensory processing issues to work through or anxiety issues, maybe even night terrors.
Much like with anyone, we will give our kids grace as much as we possibly can (especially during vulnerable moments like meltdowns). We will be slow to judge others and just want others to do the same for us as parents. If your kids had the backgrounds our kids had, you’d want to probably do things this way for their benefit as well. I heard a presenter one time talk about how although we are not the biological parents, in so many ways, we do change our children’s biology. They’ve experienced trauma. We change their brains by teaching them to self soothe, by giving them love and receiving it, by teaching them to deal with anxiety, and by parenting with connection in mind in general. Our kids trust us and we trust them because we squat down low and speak in quiet voices (usually), and we make connection priority. We connect before we correct (when we are in our right minds and doing it well.)
Our world is wonderful because of them; I know their grandparents would whole-heartedly agree. They laugh, and we experience joy like never before. Their unconditional love toward Mommy and Daddy is the best thing in the world. That love was fought for. Their sibling relationship blossoming has astounded me. We are completely smitten and taken with them, and we believe we were all meant for one another. Somehow on our marriage journey together, adoption both fell into our laps and we had to work hard for it all at the same time. Without our losses (ours being infertility and a miscarriage), we wouldn’t have this magical, blessed thing. We wouldn’t have been motivated to get through the mountains of paperwork and occasionally invasive home study. We can relate to the losses our kids experienced because we experienced a little bit of that ourselves on our journey to them. And we all four know that nothing in the whole world could separate us now. We are a team, and when one of us has a battle, we all fight it together. It is more than I could have ever asked for or imagined. I love my family. Love covers up so much that is wrong or broken in this world.
Adoption can sometimes be seen as second rate. For us, it was the glorious, miraculous story that unfolded despite our plans and after a season of heartbreak. It is not second rate, and we are so thankful that our first plans were thwarted. We are not hanging on to hope that we will now have ‘our own’ children (and what an offensive thing to say to us, so please don’t). These children are our own, don’t you see? This is our family, and we get to live this adventure! We cannot even believe how blessed we are.
Written by Amber Robinson for HappyMindHappyHome.com
1) Stay in the moment.
2) Embrace the interruption.
The lesson that I’m learning is that peace and calm aren’t found by doing less, they’re found by paying attention more to what is happening right here, right now. It all goes by so fast; I know I don’t want to miss it.
Photo credit belongs to YLK Photography
Let go of at least one thing that doesn’t have to be done today.
Truth: I am a see the glass half full person
Truth: My Hubby is NOT
Truth: Our children are like sponges listening to every work we say
How to be a Positive Parent when Facing Change
1). Listen Fully
2). Validate their feelings.
3). Consider the Positives
4). Let go….
“I want to go to my new school!”, squeals my (almost) 3 year old. In a few short days she’ll be transitioning to a new daycare . My husband and I have been prepping her for this change for a couple months… and prepping ourselves as well. Due to multiple changes occurring within this month ahead (hello baby number 3, kindergarten here we come) we figured why not just throw in one more thing. Changes all around! No man left behind! Let’s go all in!
If you’ve read any of my most recent posts you understated that for me, change usually brings anxiety. But, we are not here to talk about anxiety today. I’m taking a break from anxiety for a while. Instead, I’m focusing on being proactive, positive, and peaceful. I’m keeping in mind that I can only control so much. The rest I must leave up to faith, hope, and trust. I have come to realize I really do know very very little about predicting the future. Psychic readings are not my calling. <huff>
Let’s take some time, shall we, to focus on these 3 “P” words: Proactive, Positive, and Peaceful. Given that there is much to be said on each one of these “P” words I am going to break it down to 3 separate posts over the next 3 weeks, which will be just in time for most of you as you get ready to send your kiddo off to a new school year. We’re going to start with the first, and most important, in my opinion –
Not an actual picture, a mental picture. Children function through images. They develop understanding through seeing and doing as opposed to hearing. Learning through hearing is an acquired skill that develops more through development and growth. When children are young, they need to see and do in order to fully grasp ahold of a concept. This helps them feel empowered and in control.
Here are 3 simple ideas for how to do this:
- Draw a picture together
- Enact a scene using dolls and other toys.
- Dress up and act out a scene together of the first day.
How to get started:
- Start out by reminding your child about the upcoming change.
- Tell her that today you’re going to draw a picture/play a game together about the first day of school.
- Allow her to select the materials to get started.
- Ask questions along the way to help shape her mental picture, such as what will it look like, what colors will the room be, what will her teacher be like, what will she play with, what will she eat, etc. There are no limits really to how imaginative you can become. *It is important, though, that this picture be one grounded in reality. You want her mental picture to closely reflect what will actually happen.
- Also helpful to include here is a play by play. “Mommy will bring you to school and walk you to your room where we’ll meet your new teacher. I’ll get you settled in your room then mommy will leave for work. After work I will come back to pick you up. I’ll be so excited to see and hear what you do on your first day!” Always great to end with something you can both look forward to.