The C Word

The C Word

When most people hear the “C word” they think of the horrific illness, Cancer. However, for those who are seniors in high school or parents, friends, relatives and teachers, it means something much different. It means COLLEGE.

The “C” word is the elephant in the room or the topic that sends high school seniors into a panic state. So, in order to gain some control or semblance of order in their lives, they just don’t talk about it. Of course, unless they are forced to, at which time, we will hear responses such as, ‘well, I am keeping my options open,’ or, ‘I prefer the west coast or I am looking at staying in the south.’ These will among many other planned comebacks when people ask the big question, ‘Where are you going to college?’

I was asked to give a talk to senior girls and their mothers regarding the transition from being in high school, living in their parents’ homes to going off to college. I was asked to address the challenging issues that mothers face in letting their children go and the effects that this transition has on mothers.

There are several tips that that will assist in this very uncertain, scary transition that affects the entire family. Here are some of them.

For Parents: When your child goes to college.

  • Be a ‘think’ partner, not a fixer.

    When your kids ask you what they should do about (fill in the blank), what they want is a ‘think partner’, not advice. They want help navigating the waters. If your child seems distressed, try asking, ‘What have you thought about around this issue?’. They might outline plenty of alternatives, and it is from here that you can begin to help think with them. This takes time. Often we, as parents, are way too eager to give advice in order to solve the problem to protect our kids from being hurt. Nobody wants to get a phone call from a hysterical child, but fixing the problem for them is not the answer.

  • Practice daily self-care.

    What can you do for yourself to take care of you? Try to find this in the things you love in you life – exercise, hobbies, reading, spending time with friends, volunteering, career.

  • Be a mirror.

    If they are not calling you, everything is ok and they are navigating their way though their new life. You’ve given them wings, now let them fly.

  • Trust the process.

    Feel your feelings and be present with them. You are not alone and it is very hard to let go. It’s ok to feel whatever comes with that. By embracing the feeling in the moment, it will be easier to navigate through to the other side.

  • Find your new normal.

    Add two new words to your vocabulary: ‘new normal’. Using these two words tricks your brain into adapting to change more smoothly.

And For Seniors: When you’re heading off to college …

  • Take the word ‘perfect’ out of your vocabulary.

    There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ college. Every college has its pros and cons and even if a college seems ‘perfect’, it never ends up being perfect.

  • Get into good habits.

    Time management is one of the best habits you can get into. Try writing down what you’d like each day to look like. Another important habit is to make healthy food choices. People talk about how hard it is to eat healthy in college. Think about that now so you can have a game plan. How are you going to balance eating ‘the college way’ and eat healthy too? 

  • Be your own advocate.

    Understand and acknowledge that disappointment is part of life. Learning to advocate for yourself with adults, professors, all on your own will be your way of life. All of the things you do now with the help of your parents, are now going to happen because YOU make them happen.

  • What do YOU think?

    Before you call your parents for guidance, ask yourself first what YOU really think before you run it by your parents. Learn to use these words, ‘I’m just venting,’ or, ‘I would like to know what you think’. Try to be clear, so they can be what you need them to be in that moment.

  • Practice daily self-care.

    What do you need to do for yourself that shows that you are important and that you have value in this world? Try for things that are not strictly related to being a student. Make sure to identify what makes you happy and do something every single day to make yourself happy, such as hobbies, exercise, or spending time outdoors.

  • Communicate with your parents.

    Let them know how you are doing. Not every minute or every hour, but a little peak into your life will go a long way. The more you share with them, the less they will feel the need to keep calling you to see how you’re doing. It’s a big adjustment for them too. 

  • Find your new normal.

    Add two new words to your vocabulary: ‘new normal’. Using these two words tricks your brain into adapting to change more smoothly.

Good luck and remember that we take ourselves wherever we go. So, for the kids who are going off to college, hold on to YOU. You are amazing and have everything it takes to own this transition. And for parents, you have done your job and you have done it well. Although your job is never over, it’s time to let them be the young adults you have raised them to be.


About the Author: Allison Goldberg

Allison Goldberg has been in human services since she graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor of Science in Communication in 1990 with a minor in Sociology.  She graduated in 3 years because she wanted to get out into the work force and begin helping people.

Allison has spent the last 12 years focusing on her life coaching business venture, Personal Dynamics.  Personal Dynamics is the name of her Life Coaching company and a spin off of her position as a corporate trainer and coach with Image Dynamics.  Personal Dynamics life coaching is about creating an opportunity for Certified Life Coach, Allison to partner with her clients and develop a program and process to reach their personal goals. As a life coach, the idea is to bridge the gap between the clients personal goals and current daily life results.  Life Coaching includes clarifying the client’s personal vision and purpose, addressing behaviors that create barriers to success, problem solving, and handling challenges as they occur.

You can find Allison at Personal Dynamics and on Facebook.

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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