How to Support Your College Student During Finals

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.

supporting your college student during finals

Finals Week!

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.

supporting your college student during finals

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)

supporting your student during finals

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

happy mind happy home pinterest

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.

Good luck!

How to Protect Your Kids (when you’re not there to protect them)

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.


My kid and I are both used to spending a lot of time together. Up until the end of August 2017 he stayed home with me all but 3 days a week, and when he wasn’t with me he was at an innocent preschool with other innocent preschool kids. No one was mean there. Not that I knew of anyway. And even if there were mean kids, my kid was too young to notice. He was happy and free.

But it seems that something changes once those elementary doors open: more time away, more independence, more maturity (I use this word loosely), less protection, more exposure, more possibility of hurt to incur off my watch. I think the thing that irks me the most is that I don’t know what’s happening. I can’t even guarantee that my kid will tell me if something hurtful does occur. What if he forgets to tell me or doesn’t want to tell me? What if he decides to deal with it on his own?. .  This phrase sounds like curse words to me. I fear for my 5 year old to handle hurt feelings “on his own”. No, I want him to run home and tell me every detail of what happened at recess that day. What made him happy. What made him sad. What made him mad. What made him excited. What made him afraid. I want to hear it all. But, like most other parents I don’t hear much, and that scares me.

I can ask the right questions. I can try. I can be present at pickup and notice when he seems a little “off”. I can be curious and create opportunities for him to share about his day, every day. But, I can’t protect him from experiencing pain, hurt, ridicule, and heartache. Sucks but it’s true. So, I have to focus on the things I can do that will help him develop resilience, confidence, and strength when the inevitable occurs. In this situation where I find myself feeling somewhat helpless and terrified, I have a good cry then I pull up my mom panties and focus on what I can do:

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?”

This is my favorite. We as adults tend to think we know what’s best, and sometimes we do, but ultimately we want our kids to have the ability to trust themselves to make good choices and problem solve when faced with challenges. When we ask our kids what they think we show them that we not only value what they think but that we trust them to know and decide for themselves. I want my children to have a belief in themselves that they inherently know what is right, even when someone else is telling them it’s wrong. What I want my kid to hear in his own head when faced with this is, “Well I like who I am, so even if you don’t like me, I like me.” Yes! That is the ultimate win right there.

3) Believe in the power of resilience.

This one is hard for me, I have to admit. My fear wants me to believe that one painful moment could lead to a lifetime of suffering. I have to remind myself that there is no life that isn’t touched by some amount of pain, hurt, or sadness. My child will be no different. I cannot predict the future or try to prevent it. I can only do the thing I know to do which is to love my kid by being present; encouraging him; acknowledging his struggle and his accomplishment; listening to him; and reminding him that he has a whole family that’s got his back, so he knows that no matter what he’s faced with, he’s not alone.
 
This parenting thing is hard. Just when I think I’ve got a leg up, I trip and fall over something I didn’t see there before. It’s new road, new terrain. We are not in this alone. Just as we want our kids to know this, we need to know this. Expecting to do it all right and get it all right the first time is an impossible standard to meet. My hope is that by showing my kids that I struggle they will know that I’m here to support them, accept them, and walk with them through their own struggle. Knowing they are not alone is more powerful than any hurtful words said on the playground, that i can know for sure.

			

Good Bye High School, Hello College

So nice to hear from someone who recently went through this big transition. She shares what helped her the most when it was time to go. Written by my Summer intern Karley Knight who spent the first half of her summer studying abroad in Ireland and the second half helping me get more “put together.” She offers parents a few hints as to what your budding college freshman really need from you as they get closer to move in day.

The big transition…

          Consider two fruits- apples and bananas. They’re both fruits, nutritional, and have the same goal- to fulfill hunger. However, they differ in crucial ways. They’re different colors, taste differently, have different benefits, and so on. Compare the similarities and differences of apples and bananas to high school and college. Both high school and college are forms of schooling, have the same goal of educating students, and so on. However, they also have defining differences that make them seem like two completely different concepts.

going off to college

            Almost every high schooler can’t wait until they can finally escape the immaturity and monotony of high school to flee to the magical idea of college. They’ve enviously eyed college students and their wild parties, autonomy, and seemingly glamorous lifestyle from the confines of their dreary hallways for the last four years, and they’re more than ready to join the cool crowd. Although dreaming about their idealistic future can be exhilarating, their excitement can be easily squashed when they realize the other, more sobering factors that go along with leaving home. They have to think about the less fun realities of college- harder classes, doing their own laundry, having to shop for groceries, and other things they’re used to having their parents do for them.

            I was just like the majority of overly enthusiastic students whenever it was my time to depart for college. After graduation, I was so excited to finally exchange my all too familiar small town for a new, diverse college environment. I was so busy planning how I would decorate my dorm room, constructing my class schedule, and picking out school supplies that I didn’t leave any time to think about anything else but the pros of moving away. As the summer drew to a close and move in day crept closer, my blind enthusiasm slowly began to be replaced by a growing realization of what I was leaving behind. I had been waiting for move in day for so long that I’d forgotten that it was actually going to happen. I now thought about how drastically my life was about to change, and had the same worries that most college freshman have, such as the first week of classes, dorm life, a new social scene, and so on.

what i needed from my parents            My parents were a huge help in assuaging my newbie college anxieties. Their support helped my transition from high school senior to college rookie smoother. There were three main things that my parents did in the time leading up to my farewell that really encouraged me:

  1. Constantly reminded me that my core social support (my family) would always be there for me with unwavering love
  2. Advised me that I wouldn’t be 100% successful, and that it was going to take me a minute to get used to my new situation, but that it was okay to not be perfect at everything right away
  3. Always demonstrated genuine confidence in me and my ability to adapt and thrive in college

            By having a secure, supportive backbone to fall back on, I felt less alone in my journey to college. In addition, by being told that I wasn’t expected to automatically be perfectly established in college alleviated the pressure I put on myself to prove that I could be successful on my own. The third, and probably most important one, was the way my parents responded to me whenever I expressed my apprehension about leaving. Both my mom and dad always assured me that they had no qualms concerning my capability to do well in college. They constantly told me how proud they were of me for going to college and how excited they were to see me flourish in the coming years. By hearing about how others believed in me helped me believe in myself, which was crucial in assuaging my fears. I encourage parents with kids preparing to leave the nest to practice these same strategies to help their children feel better during this time.

            Parents shouldn’t expect their kids to be perfect, but instead expect them to learn from their experiences and become a greater person because of those opportunities. And although they may want to, parents can’t do everything for their kids. They can support and advise them, but ultimately adolescents must learn for themselves how to manage their affairs on their own.

college transition

This progression period is a tough time filled with conflicting emotions of excitement and anxiety, but the transition from home to college is a very important time in a person’s life. College helps develop one’s true identity and realize what they really want in life. It seems daunting in the beginning, but after acclimating to college, life becomes much more exciting.

Written by Karley Knight

NEW SCHOOL YEAR AHEAD! Preparing Your Child for Change: BEING POSITIVE

Last week I sent my daughter off to a new preschool. All anxiety, trepidation, and fear (on my part) was laid to rest as she went bounding into the room with a smile on her face, ready to take on the new adventure. In that moment I became very aware of two possibilities: either I am a very overactive nervous mommy OR I did a sufficient job preparing her for the change. Maybe both.

In my previous post we talked about preparing your child for the new school year through proactive prepping. Today we will focus on being positive in the face of change and all things new.

Now you might be thinking that in order to be a positive thinking parent you must be a positive thinking person. I am here to tell you, this is not true. You may, however, find that through some practice you will become a more positive person, and who doesn’t want that? I, by nature, am a skeptic. I’ve trained my brain to believe if I consider all the things that could go wrong I will then be able to prepare myself to handle it more successfully. Faulty logic, here. What actually ends up happening is I turn myself into a worrying, stressed, and irritable mess who’s actually less capable of handling the circumstances gracefully. Maybe a little positive, hopeful thinking is a worthwhile alternative to consider… I decided to give it a try.

Being positive doesn’t mean you ignore the negative. It means you include both potential pitfalls and potential successes by addressing them with a solution focused mindset.

Since we are talking about beginning a new school year, let’s take my son for example. He’s turning 5 next week and will be entering elementary school 4 days later. He’ll also be partaking in welcoming a new sibling within this exact time frame. 3 big milestones here!

My son happens to be a bit of a skeptic himself, thinking of what could go wrong before what could go right. Preparing him effectively takes a lot of positivity while still paying careful attention to his concerns. Again, we are not seeking to discount the supposed negatives here. How do I go about this delecate task? Let’s take a look…

How to be a Positive Parent when Facing Change


1). Listen Fully


As I reminded my son this morning that we were going to his kindergarten school to talk with the teacher, I could see the nerves creep up on him. “But why, mommy? I don’t want to. I don’t want you to leave me there. I will be scared.”

First, I needed to remind him what was actually going to take place. “I am not going to leave. I will be there the whole time while you talk to the teacher. We will be there for a little while then we’ll come back home.” (Proactive Prepping in action). “Oh, okay.”, he stated as his nerves soothed a bit.

It is crucial to listen to what your child is telling you, verbally and non verbally, so you can effectively respond. Being positive does not mean discounting the concern through statements such as, “It’s fine. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Don’t worry. Etc.” This causes your child to shut their fears inside where they remain unaddressed. Encourage them to let it out.

2). Validate their feelings.


“Honey, I know going new places and meeting new people can seem scary. It’s all so new! Let’s think of what you might do when you we get there. (More proactive preparing here).

3). Consider the Positives


Help your child consider the good things while validating the supposed ‘not so good ‘. “I bet the teacher will be so nice. And the classrooms – ooh man, I bet there are so many cool toys and crafts in there. You will have so many fun choices! What do you think it will be like?” “I think there will be computers?! And games?! Lots of things to color with?!” “Oh yeah! I bet you’re right! I can’t wait for us to go and check it out together!” This convo sounds like it’s taking a positive turn.

4). Let go….


There comes a time where you may need to release the grip and let your child see for himself that it really is “okay”. If you have a particularly anxious child, seeing is believing. After all your preparations and positivity they may still feel nervous, and that is okay. Having your positive belief that it really is okay will allow them to step forward in trust. There may be tears and little fists gripping your shirt that you have to pry loose with the jaws of life, but they can, and most likely will see for themself that it is okay. Better than okay even.

Monitoring your own anxiety is critical. If you’re child senses that you’re afraid, they will feel afraid. Remind yourself and your child that THIS IS A GOOD THING! You wouldn’t be doing this, on purpose, if it wasn’t.

Change can be daunting, or scary, but there sure are a lot of exciting things to be experienced on the other side. Have fun!

			

New School Year Ahead! Preparing Your Child for Change: Being Proactive

http://happymindhappyhome.com/new-school-year-ahead-proactively-preparing-child-change/

“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 –

Being Proactive:

Though I cannot know for certain how my children will adjust to their new schools, new friends, new teachers, new sibling, and all other things new, I can, however, prepare them for what to expect  (as best as I am able).

Let’s take my daughter for example. She has gone to the same daycare her whole life. This makes it difficult for my husband and I to move her somewhere new where she doesn’t know anyone. Somewhere new where we don’t know anyone. ** Now these two sentences here are important. Important because as parents we may have the tendency to project our feelings (anxiety or otherwise) onto our children. I may be feeling anxious, my husband may be feeling anxious, but my daughter, well that’s a maybe. All I know right now is she feels excited about going somewhere new. She likes new. She is an adventurous soul in this way. Me – not so much. All the more reason not to assume that I know how she’ll feel. I can know, with a little therapist background in my pocket, that preparing kids for changes is crucial no matter how fluidly they adapt to changes or not. We all like to know what’s ahead.

Proactive Prepping

So what is the best way to proactively prep your child for change? The number 1 rule I share with the parents I work work is:

Paint a Mental Picture for Your Child.
 

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.


With my daughter we’ve been driving by the school regularly, we made a visit to the school so she could see the classrooms, see the actual space she’ll be going to each day to play. This will help her feel a little safer when we return on her actual 1st day. Now, lucky for me I have the opportunity to bring her there for a trial morning in which she’ll get to return home with me after a couple hours versus a full day. To be honest, I’m not sure if this is more for my peace of mind or hers. Like I said, this is a change for everyone. I don’t know these people either!! I digress…. back to being proactive. If you don’t have the opportunity to physically see a change before it takes place, you can still very well assist your child in creating their mental picture. Most important is you want to speak your child’s language – play. Remember, they learn through seeing and doing.

Here are 3 simple ideas for how to do this:

  1. Draw a picture together
  2. Enact a scene using dolls and other toys.
  3. 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.

All of these help shape your child’s understating of what will take place when this change occurs, aiding her in feeling masterful over what’s the come as opposed to feeling at the whim of the changing tides ahead.

Helping our children feel in control in a healthy way is the best way of preventing them to look for control in unhealthy ways. These little people deserve this help from us. And hey, you will likely find that it’s quite helpful for you as well!

I look forward to hearing how proactive prepping helps you and your child grow through change together. Please share. And come back next week for tips on a being a positive parent through change.