November 22, 2015

Support Sunday:  Parents need to cope with their own anxiety

If there is one comment that I hear more than any other from parents of high school students who are about to engage in the application process, it is an expression of anxiety and fear.  This process is terra incognita for many parents who have provided for, nurtured and protected their children and who have tried to shield them from emotional and physical pain, let alone extreme disappointment.

How do we deal with something that is not within our control as parents?  How do we avoid transmitting that anxiety to our children as they navigate these new waters?  Isn’t dealing with adolescence difficult enough?

We worry that our children will make errors on their applications, forget to list that one important activity, write an essay that doesn’t “shine brightly,” or choose too many reach schools.  They want so much for their children to be accepted to the schools of their dreams, which is understandable.  But they are also obligated to be the adults in this trying process.

One thing that is important to realize is that this anxiety is completely understandable.  Often self-help books, such as Parent Knowledgy:  A (Simple) Guide to Surviving Your Teen by Melissa Cohen, LCSW, can be very helpful in identifying your teenager’s problems pro-actively. Books like How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims can help adults who are in danger of becoming “helicopter parents,” and a book that was required reading for parents of students entering Skidmore College in the late 1990s, Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Today’s College Experience by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, is extremely useful.

Just as you rely on the wisdom of school counselors, independent consultants, friends and family, please reach out to those who can help you cope with the process. I have worked with parents who were daunted, terrified, and even immobilized by the complexities of the application process. Since mental health is equally as important as physical well-being, do not hesitate to ask your physician for a referral to a mental health professional for guidance.

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