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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Physical activity is the natural end to the fight or flight response (which is where the physical feelings of an anxiety attack come from). Walking will help to burn the adrenalin and neurochemicals that have surged the body to prepare it for flight or fight, and which are causing the physical symptoms (racy heart, feeling sick, sweaty, short breaths, dry mouth, trembly or tense in the limbs etc). As well as this, the rhythm of walking will help to calm their anxious amygdala. Brains love rhythm, and walking is a way to give them this. 
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Try to help your young one access their steady breaths while walking, but it is very likely that they will only be able to do this if they’ve practised outside of an anxiety attack. During anxiety, the brain is too busy to try anything unfamiliar. Practising will help to create neural pathways that will make breathing an easier, more accessible response during anxiety. If they aren't able to access strong steady breaths, you might need to do it for them. This will be just as powerful - in the same way they can catch your anxiety, they will also be able to catch your calm. When you are able to assume a strong, calm, steady presence, this will clear the way for your brave ones to do the same.
The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens

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