This month, many high school seniors finalized their college decisions. They are connecting with new peers, deciding on a roommate, considering classes, and imagining all the fun and excitement that lies ahead.
College dreams will soon become a reality… Is your teen ready for college?
We recognize that before they embark on independence, teens need to be proficient in basic life skills like feeding themselves, doing laundry, and managing their time. But, what are the not-so-obvious skills that will support your college-bound teen? What inner qualities need to be strengthened in order to handle common first-year challenges and settle into healthy routines?
In my experience coaching college students, I have found that two qualities are most helpful when it comes to a positive college experience: resilience and optimism.
Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Researchers describe resilient individuals as having optimistic, zestful, and energetic approaches to life. They are curious, open to new experiences, and strategically tap into positive emotions through humor, relaxation, and optimistic thinking.
Optimism relates to expectations of the future and the belief that good things will happen. Optimists cope with stress more effectively because they believe in a bright future. They have better relationships because they are generally cheerful people. Additionally, optimists persevere through challenges. They don’t give up when the going gets tough.
Can you imagine what a difference these two life skills will make for your college-bound teen?
As a coach, I can assure you that they will make a world of difference. When homesickness kicks in… When her workload feels overwhelming…. Or when making new friends and finding her spot in a social circle…. When dealing with all the new dynamics that come along with a college relationship… Your daughter can rely on resilience and optimism to support her.
So how do you strengthen resilience and optimism before your teen heads off to the dorm? How do you make sure that your teen is ready for college?
According to Positive Psychology, there are three strategies that increase resilience and optimism.
1. Develop mental agility
Mental agility is the ability to embrace a broad perspective, see multiple sides of a situation, and access a variety of possible next steps. Mentally agile teens tend to be comfortable in novel or challenging situations. They are naturally curious and inquisitive. They make healthier choices because they think through choices and outcomes.
2. Improve self-regulation
Self-regulation is the ability to control oneself, including thoughts, and set personal boundaries. Teens and young adults who are adept at self-regulation are able to control what they think and do and stop themselves from ruminating on worst-case scenarios. Mental agility and self-regulation can be developed by encouraging your teen to explore different perspectives and possibilities, to clarify her personal boundaries, and to learn strategies for regulating her emotions. Parents can model and discuss how to cultivate these skills, but teens – especially those who are steps away from independence – are not always receptive to parental input. Talking to someone who is skilled at teaching life skills and mindset strategies will give your teen the opportunity to strengthen her mental agility and tune into her self-awareness.
3. The third strategy is to avoid thinking traps
Thinking traps are ways of thinking that distort reality and can create feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, or hopelessness. There are five common thinking traps described in Positive Psychology. They include:
- Mind Reading: Assuming you know what another person is thinking.
- Me Trap: Believing that you are the sole cause of every setback or problem.
- Them Trap: Believing others are the sole cause of setbacks or problems and blaming them.
- Catastrophizing: Creating and ruminating on a worst-case scenario.
- Helplessness: Believing you have no control.
The best way to avoid thinking traps is to first understand what they are. Parents can educate their teens on these patterns of thinking and help them identify which trap they fall into most often. For your college-bound teen, who may fall into thinking traps, an outside perspective will allow her to see a broader view of her situation. Whether her college support system is made up of parents, peers, or professionals, having someone to help her see things from various points of view, will help her avoid thinking traps.
As you teen prepares to enter her next stage and write the college chapters in her book of life, make sure she is equipped not just on a practical level, but on a mental and emotional level as well. Consider asking her to talk with a life coach to help her prepare for the transition and ease into the first year of college.