Beyond Good Marks: Preparing Your Child for College
As a child & adolescent counsellor, much of my time is spent working with parents who are preparing to launch their children into the “Real World.” The transition from high school to college is a big step, not only for students, but for families too. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive from parents is, “What can I do to prepare my student for life after high school?” While most parents are concerned with preparing their children for the academic pressures of college (i.e. encouraging strong study habits, etc), there is another aspect of post-high school preparation that often goes unnoticed: Preparing students for the emotional and logistical aspects of living away from home.
In many ways, going to college (whether it is in one’s hometown, a few hours away, or even abroad), is a student’s first step into adulthood. College offers a prime opportunity for students to gently transition from the security of home, to the reality of adult life. As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your child is to encourage this transition by preparing your child with the tools they will need to live and thrive as a young adult. What better time to begin this transition than during your child’s final years of high school where they can practice these important life skills within the safety net of their own supportive home?
Here are a few tips for parents looking to prepare their children for the broader demands of post-high school life:
Parents naturally want the best for the children, and will go to the ends of the earth to make sure that all of their needs are met. While providing for one’s child is a natural response as a parent, there is a fine line between supporting one’s child and enabling dependent behaviour. As a counsellor, I have seen many families who are eager to get their students into the top schools in the country. Unfortunately, this eagerness can sometimes translate into parents completing tasks that the child should be learning how to complete on their own. Researching colleges, completing applications, making phone calls to the admissions officers, and following up with emails are all prime opportunities for parents to take a backseat and encourage their student to take on more adult activities. After all, having your child invested in their own future is key to their future success! As your student nears the end of his or her high school career, as a parent one of the best things you can do is this: Don’t do for your child what they can do for themselves.
Practice Life Skills
Will your child be living in a hostel? Will they have a roommate? Will they have to manage their own finances? Does your child have the basic skills needed to navigate daily tasks and demands? If not, use this opportunity while your child is still at home to practice these important life skills. If they don’t already know, teach your child how to cook a couple of basic meals. Encourage them to make dinner for the family one evening. Reinforce the importance of keeping their room tidy. Walk them through step-by-step how to pay their mobile phone bill and manage any other financial demands. In addition to practical skills, don’t forget to address their social skills as well. If they are having troubles with friends, discuss how they would solve these issues in a roommate relationship, away from home. While the odds are high that your student will have many of their needs attended to by the college (i.e. food, housing, etc), use this time to introduce these important life skills that will serve them will in their adult life.
Encourage Life Balance
Many college-bound students (and adults for that matter) struggle to balance work with play. As colleges become increasingly competitive, pressure is often placed on students to study hard, stay up late, receive top grades, and develop a long list of extracurricular activities. Before they even leave for college, many students are burnt out, experiencing stress related to an over packed schedule, and hold unrealistic expectations for themselves. Whether they know it or not, students are building habits that they will carry with them into adulthood. As a parent, you are in a position to encourage your child to take care of themselves; to do the best they can, while still maintaining a healthy lifestyle complete with a good night’s sleep, healthy eating, and time set apart from the demands of school to relax and enjoy other aspects of life. By teaching your child to have a balanced lifestyle, not only will you help them to build healthy habits in college, but in their adult life as well.
One of the greatest gifts you can give to your child as they prepare for life after high school is a safe environment for them to process their thoughts and feelings about going to college. As a parent, strive to communicate with your child about how they are feeling about this upcoming transition. Ask questions such as “What are your greatest fears about college?,” “What are you most looking forward to?,” “What do you hope to gain from your experience?” and the like. Communication within a family is vital, and a child’s transition to college offers a prime opportunity to grow in your relationship and offer support in this unique life stage.
Model Strong Character
Finally, in these final years, months, or even weeks that your child is with you, be sure to model the type of character you wish to see them take into the greater world. Whether your child is five years old or fifteen, they are constantly observing, watching, and learning from their parents. One of the best things you can do for your child before they leave home is to model traits such as honesty, kindness, respect, responsibility, communication, and the like. As we all know, actions speak louder than words. As a parent, this could not be true. Take advantage of the time you have together with your child to model these important traits.
Sending one’s child off to college can be both exciting and scary. For parents, knowing that one’s child is prepared to excel both as a student and as an individual living and thriving in society, will likely relieve anxiety as you and your family prepare for this upcoming transition. By transferring responsibility, practicing life skills, encouraging life balance, communicating, and modelling strong character, you will ensure that your child has all of the tools he or she needs to succeed in college and beyond.
If you are anxious about your child’s transition or experiencing struggles with your child, consider talking it over with a professional counsellor. You will gain valuable insights about coping with this very important phase.