Parenting Students with Learning Differences – Dealing with our Own Anxiety

This is the third article by College Parent Central contributor Dr. Lynn Abrahams.  Lynn specializes in college transition and success for students with learning differences.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, in her book How to Raise an Adult (2015), reports that American parents are depressed at twice the rate of the general population. There is no question about it, parenting can be stressful, challenging, and anxiety provoking.

As parents of students with learning differences, we have watched our kids navigate years of school experience. We have been with them through neuro-psych testing, diagnosis, meeting with teachers and special educators. We have shared both the success stories and the brick walls with them. As their parents, we know more than anyone else where the pitfalls could be. This is probably why our own anxiety can swell to explosion when they take that leap to go to college. In fact, it is possible that we could be even more anxious than they are!

I speak as both a parent and as a learning disability specialist, who has worked with college students for the past 30 years, when I say that we need to find healthy strategies to deal with our own anxiety. We will not be able to be supportive to our students if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

There is a reason airline personnel instruct us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others – if we run out of oxygen we are of no use to anyone else.

Here are some thoughts to ponder as your kids gear up for the transition from high school to college:

Feeling anxious is normal

  1. It is good to admit to yourself what you are feeling and know that there is no shame in it. As parents, we are so biologically wired to “protect” our offspring that we are particularly good at predicting what could go wrong. This is wonderful when they are two years old and running into the road. It may not be as helpful when they begin the process of learning how to rely on themselves in the college environment. When you have been involved with the day-to-day school pressures of your student’s high school experience, it makes sense that it would be stressful for you when they are in this transition. The response of feeling anxious stems from your love and it is OK to feel it.

The timing is perfect for self-reflection

  1. When students begin the college experience there’s a natural shift that occurs in your role. This is the perfect time to begin looking at the growing space between you and them. In elementary, middle, and high school you needed to be involved to make sure your student got the services they needed. In college, they need to learn to advocate for themselves. This is a natural time to take a step back and look at what you can do to help that is now in the support role rather than the fix-it role.

Look at the message you are giving

  1. When we get overly anxious about our student’s performance, without meaning to, we can send out the message that they cannot do it. I remember working with a first-year student whose mom was checking in every day to make sure she was following the syllabus in her writing class. The mom meant well in reminding her daughter to pay attention to the expectations of the professor. But the student admitted to me that she thought her mother was sure she would fail in college. We discussed ways we could reassure her mother to let her know that she was aware of what she needed to do.

It is possible to teach helplessness

  1. If our students think we will step in to solve a problem, they may not choose to take the risk of trying to fix it themselves. The concept “Learned Helplessness”, observed and named by psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven F. Maier, is a real phenomenon. Originally the term referred to the fact that animals who receive negative stimuli eventually stop trying to avoid it and become helpless, even when there is a way out. Seligman and Maier realized that this did not just happen with negative stimuli. If anyone believes that they have no control over their situation (if mom or dad fix every problem, the student loses the sense of power) they begin to behave in a helpless manner.

We tend to focus more on the anxiety of our students, who are entering college, than on our own complex mixture of feelings. Yet, there are important reasons to look at ourselves and notice how what we feel may affect our students.  Our goal is to support our students’ confidence as they transition into becoming successful college students. The first step may be to take an honest look at our own anxiety.

Related Articles:

Making the Shift from High School to College When Your Student Has Learning Differences

Support for Students with Learning Differences in College: Do Your Homework!

Does Your Student Know How to Advocate for What They Need?

 


New Year’s Resolutions for College Parents – and Their College Students

OK, have you ever had the same resolution for more than one year? You know you have . . . Sometimes it’s because you just didn’t make it happen last time – and sometimes it’s because it’s such a good resolution that you need it again.

This year we’re revisiting some resolutions for college parents and for their students that we posted way back in 2009. We’ve updated some – life has moved on after all.  And some are just gems that should still be on our resolution list.

We invite you to take a few minutes to review our list, adopt some suggestions, and add a few of your own.  The New Year is a time for new beginnings, so whether you’re about to be a college parent,  you’re a new college parent, or you’ve been at this for a while, it’s the time of year to take stock and make a fresh start. And don’t forget to share a few of these with your student as well.  A new year also brings a new semester for many students – the perfect time for their fresh start as well.

Read moreNew Year’s Resolutions for College Parents – and Their College Students


Beyond the Pumpkin Pie: When Your College Student Comes Home for Thanksgiving

For many students and their families, Thanksgiving Break will be the first extended trip home from college.  It’s a bit of an appetizer for the longer Winter Break to come.

We’re excited to have our student home. We have plans.  We’ve been baking and cleaning and thinking about those long, important conversations.  We’ll have a chance to catch up and learn all of the details about our student’s life at college.

Maybe.  Be careful.  Don’t expect too much. Be prepared so that you can make the most of the time that you have.

There will be plenty of time for more extended conversations over the longer Winter Break, but you need to give your student some space to relax and regroup for the final push of the semester. This will be a good time for a check-in, and with some thinking and planning you can make the most of the short break.

Read moreBeyond the Pumpkin Pie: When Your College Student Comes Home for Thanksgiving


Undecided, Undeclared, Open, Exploring: Your College Student’s Search for a Major

Many students (some say as many as 50%) enter college undecided about their major.

Many students who enter college as undecided experience stress and anxiety about declaring a major and/or finding a career.

Many students who enter college declaring a major are really undecided but have made a choice because they feel pressured.

Many parents of undecided students worry that their student lacks direction and will not find a meaningful career.

Many students, and their parents, are anxious about this seemingly indecisive status.

Who are these undecided students?

Read moreUndecided, Undeclared, Open, Exploring: Your College Student’s Search for a Major


How College Parents Can Help Their Student Avoid Sophomore Slump

College administrators, faculty, and parents place a lot of emphasis on the transition to college and the first-year experience.  We all know that these new college students, and their parents, will be undergoing a tremendous change in their lives as they enter the world of college.  Colleges run orientation programs, offer special classes and seminars for first-year students, communicate with these new students with encouragement and reminders, and often have a “let it go” attitude when new students make mistakes or miss deadlines.

Once students complete that tumultuous first year of college, they face sophomore year and the changes that it brings.  Our sophomore students need just as much support from home, even though that need may be less obvious. As college parents, we can help our sophomore students realize that the concept of sophomore slump really does exist.

What is sophomore slump?

Sophomore slump refers to the phenomenon in which a second effort fails to live up to the quality of a first effort.  The term is also used in sports (for second year players) and in music (for second recordings by an artist).  At college, students in their second, or sophomore, year often experience both a let-down and a decrease in their grades.  If the word sophomore means “wise fool,” it is an accurate description of how many second year students feel: they aren’t sure whether they feel wise or foolish at any given moment.

Why does sophomore slump happen?

There are several things that occur during the second year of college that can contribute to the slump that sophomores may encounter.  These are especially troubling if your student is unprepared for the differences during this year of college.  Parents and students need to understand the ways in which this year is different from that first year of college.

Read moreHow College Parents Can Help Their Student Avoid Sophomore Slump


College Parent News and Views

The more that college parents know and understand about the college experience, the less we worry and the better we will be able to help our students to succeed and thrive throughout their college career.  However, there is an overwhelming amount of information out there on the web.   We’d like to help you find some of the information that might be most interesting and useful to you as a college parent.

In News and Views we share recent college related news and sources we’ve found as we do our research.  We hope that this feature will help to introduce you to new ideas and to help you keep up with some of the current issues that may affect your college student – and you.

We invite you to read some of the articles suggested below – and to let us know what you think of some of the ideas included here.

Read moreCollege Parent News and Views


When Your College Senior Hates Their Major

You’re almost at the finish line.  You’ve made it through that somewhat scary freshman year, the potential sophomore slump, junior year, and your student is now top of the heap – a senior!  It’s time for celebration and planning for Commencement.

But then it happens.  Your student decides that they hates their major.  They’re devastated.  You’re devastated.  You’re both at least a little scared.  Perhaps it’s the courses they’re now taking that sealed the deal.  Or perhaps they had an internship or opportunity to get out in the field and hated the experience.  Your student’s upset, depressed and at a loss.  And so are you.  What now?

It’s a very difficult situation and it’s natural to be upset.  Discovering late in the college experience that your major doesn’t seem right can feel overwhelming.  And, as is often the case, it’s almost harder as a parent to watch your student be so unhappy.  But the situation is not unique.  Many students have second, and third, and fourth, thoughts about major and career – even in their senior year.

Read moreWhen Your College Senior Hates Their Major


Why Some College Parents’ Involvement Increases During the Second Semester

You sent your child off to college this fall.  It was hard. You said goodbye.  You worried. You worked at adjusting to the empty nest. You worried some more. But somehow, both you and your student survived.  You got through that difficult first semester.  It may have gone brilliantly, or there may have been some hiccups and room for improvement, but you both made it through.

So sending your student off for the second semester should be a breeze, right?  No big deal.  Maybe.  But maybe not.

The college parent timeline

Every parent’s experience is unique – because every student’s experience is unique. But there are some universals, and there is a cycle of college parenting for many families.  If you are having a difficult time with the second semester of college, you are not alone.

One problem, however, is that you don’t realize that you’re in good company.  No one talks about it.  When you sent your student off to college for the first time, you knew everyone else was feeling similar heart-tugs.  From articles, to the stories other parents shared, to the communication from the school, you knew you weren’t alone, and everyone told you it would be OK.

Read moreWhy Some College Parents’ Involvement Increases During the Second Semester


How Do American College Students Manage Their Finances?

We have written an earlier post about college students and their use of credit cards.  The picture seems have improved over the past ten years. In general, students have fewer credit cards and lower balances. If your student has a credit card, have a conversation with him about how he uses his card and how he feels about credit.

We’d like to share some additional information from the same Experian study that gives an extended view of college students and their finances.  Clearly, many students are thinking about their money and their finances and are working to be responsible.  But there are also areas where there is room for improvement.

We hope this information may provide additional conversation starters with your college student.  Where does your student fit in the college student financial picture?

Read moreHow Do American College Students Manage Their Finances?


10 Reasons Why Your Student May Have a Case of the “Second Semester Blues”

It’s winter.  In many places in the country it’s cold, and it’s dark a lot. The holiday break is over. The novelty of being a new college student has worn off.  May, and summer vacation, seem a long way off.  And now it’s time to get started with a new semester.

Is it any wonder that your student may have a case of the Second Semester Blues?

If your student is heading back to school but not particularly excited about the prospect, know that she is not alone.  There may be mild reluctance (who doesn’t hate the end of vacation?) or there may be serious resistance to returning.  Help your student to understand that this feeling is common.  There is no instant cure, but it may help your student to know that there are others who feel the same way – and that the feeling usually passes.

Why is your student feeling this way?

There are many reasons students may feel less than enthusiastic about their return to school for second semester, and some students may have multiple reasons.

Read more10 Reasons Why Your Student May Have a Case of the “Second Semester Blues”


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