If you have a child who is currently a senior in high school, you know that the application process is heating up, deadlines are approaching, and the school-work required for seniors at academically challenging schools continues. In many ways, the transition to college for your child starts during the senior year with the assumption of responsibility in the college process and can bring with it an added measure of stress.
Causes of Stress
Work and Deadlines: Maybe for the first time, your child is facing absolute deadlines with college applications, SAT or ACT registration, and other aspects of the application process. And they might be enrolled in Advanced Placement Courses which cover substantial amounts of material each week. Many seniors also have more leadership responsibilities with extracurricular activities. There's more work to do and that work comes with hard deadlines - both are sources of stress.
Increased anxiety: Almost all seniors are anxious about college admission, wondering if they will be accepted to their desired schools. I'd bet that all seniors are at least somewhat anxious about SAT or ACT scores. Many are anxious about getting into a prestigious college or the college which their parents want them to attend. You and your child might not agree about which college is the best fit, and that can add to their (and your!) anxiety. Your child may seem eager to leave home for college, but now that the reality of leaving is fast approaching, they might become anxious about being away.
Transition: For many seniors, this is the first significant transition they are experiencing. And with that transition are unknowns that will likely be on their minds. Their relationship with you will change and since they haven't been through that change before, thinking about it can add stress. Students also know that their friend relationships will also likely change. And, your senior may also be concerned about changing relationships with siblings; especially if a sibling is planning a move into the senior's bedroom when the senior leaves for college!
Warning Signs of Stress
Everyone (college adviser, faculty, parents, seniors) should watch for symptoms of undue stress. These symptoms may include:
- extreme tiredness and irritability (e.g. arguments at home and at school)
- falling grades after a record of high grades
- procrastination on college applications, school assignments
- extreme changes in eating habits or attitude
- obvious sense of despair / defeat…"all is lost"
- any conduct which is out of the ordinary and without explanation
How to Respond
Awareness: You've already taken the first step - recognizing that your child's stress is likely to increase and becoming familiar with some of the warning signs.
Empathy: Awareness should lead to empathy. Once you know the likelihood of stress and recognize the signs, you can react with empathy instead of frustration, anger, or other reactive emotions. Remembering times in our life that you've been under stress will help as you respond to your child.
Communication: An empathetic heart positions you to communicate with your child. Start with just expressing your understanding and being willing to listen. Often this opens the door for further communication and provide opportunities for you to advise and help in more specific ways.
Prayer: Of course, every occasion of stress and anxiety is an opportunity for prayer. Your child will see your faith at work and will see the Lord's love and care for them as He hears and answers. As you respond with a peace that passes understanding, your child's heart will also be encouraged to rest.
Hope this helps - maybe the next post should be about parents' stress!