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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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