Hi Fellow Parent!
May Day = Children dancing around a maypole.
Seniors just made the first big decision of their young lives, and if you’re the parent of one, where your child will attend college is no longer a mystery! Break out the champagne (or sparkling cider) for the end of not knowing, do your own celebratory dance, and cheers to the next stage in your kid’s life and (gulp) yours.
Of course, now you’ve got emotions to deal with. Those emotions were the topic of most questions I’ve fielded recently, so that’s what we’re going to address here and now.
I summoned a guest to help—and get this: she’s an anxiety expert!Lynn Lyons, LICSW, has some words of wisdom below to comfort you through all those lasts you’re facing—last high school playoffs, band concert, prom, and after the last day of high school (I can hardly think about it without tearing up), graduation. I have a senior, and I am feeling the feels right along with you.
Mayday = SOS!
Parents of juniors, has your Facebook feed lit up recently with announcements of college choices of other people’s older kids? Do you have that jittery feeling of “Tag. You’re it!” Are you running a swirling internal monologue along the lines of: I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, or if I’m doing enough, or what should I be doing next, and I am totally behind Ms. Perfect Mom who has already taken her kid on thirty college tours…
Stop! Repeat after me: I am not behind. I am right where I’m supposed to be.
You have come to the right place for perspective and support on the task before you. No guilt for all you think you have not done to help your kid. Instead, a pat on the back is in order. Your kid has survived your parenting and is considering going to college. Victory! Perfect parenting is a lovely, elusive goal, but good enough is good enough. You have plenty of time before a single decision must be made.
Right now, your kid is under so much pressure it makes my head spin to think about it. On top of all of those rigorous junior classes, May brings AP tests and standardized college entrance tests, and even more testing looms in June. Plus, the weather is so good, but senioritis is for seniors, not juniors. If you have an anxious teenager, check out Lynn Lyons’ webinar on Teens, Anxiety, and Depression for help. And while I know it sometimes may seem impossible, model calm (even if you’re not feeling it inside). Your child is watching.
Lynn Lyons, LICSW psychotherapist, author and speaker, is the one who wrote the books on all of this. She is the co-author with Reid Wilson of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents and the companion book for kids: Playing with Anxiety: Casey’s Guide for Teens and Kids. She is the author of Using Hypnosis with Children: Creating and Delivering Effective Interventions. She maintains a private practice in Concord, New Hampshire, and she has taken time out of her busy life to be here, with us, and provide her professional advice on preparing for your child to leave the nest. Gratitude.
Leaving the Nest-Tips for Managing This Time of Uncertainty
By Lynn Lyons, LICSW
When both my sons were readying to fly the nest, I was a mess. Any hint at anything connected to a goodbye made me teary. It felt so big and so meaningful. Because it was. It is.
Accept that. These are emotional waters you’re entering; but as you do, there are things that can make it better…and worse. As an anxiety expert and a mom, here’s what I want you to know.
Teens are developmentally primed to reject adult input as they strive to be independent and find their own answers, but they also need and want your help. At the very time when they are faced with huge changes– graduating from high school, waiting to hear from colleges, moving away from home or deciding on a career path—your advice is met with both resistance and demands for more. No degree of reassurance or encouragement seems to be enough!
Why? Because you can’t give your teens what they’re looking for: a guarantee that everything will turn out perfectly.
So, instead of offering reassurance and certainty, help them understand and normalize the challenges of relationships, problem solving, disappointment, and uncertainty. Most teens understand that life can be unpredictable. But during this time of flux, they sometimes lose their ability to tolerate such big uncertainties. You can help by normalizing all the big feels.
Pay particular attention to these anxiety-inducing thought traps:
- Perfectionism: “Everything must—and can– be done perfectly” (also known as all or nothing thinking)
- Catastrophic thinking: “If one thing goes wrong, everything will fall apart and I won’t be successful in life.”
- The One Path Myth: “There is ONE PATH to a successful life. I have to find it or stay on it, no matter what!”
Teens needs to hear that they aren’t expected to know everything, and that they can’t see into the future. And perhaps most importantly, they are supposed to be anxious! Expecting to be totally calm and relaxed during such a time of change is unrealistic. (This goes for you, too.) I couldn’t do my job without the two words, “of course.”
In fact, moving toward the anxiety and learning how to manage it is the skill I most strongly promote. If teens believe that staying calm is the goal, they’ll avoid taking risks, stay where they’re most comfortable, and never build up their own sense of confidence.
Make room for the feelings –“Of course you’re going to feel lonely at times as you’re making new connections”– but then support taking action and courageously moving into uncertainty. Although your first instinct may be to step in and make it okay, know that you are equipping your teen with valuable skills when you model and support a more flexible—and independent– path into adulthood.