Soon it’s going to be time for the high school seniors out there to start looking for colleges, and for recent graduates to head off to college for the first time. As a parent, this is an exciting and terrifying time for you! Your child is now beginning their adulthood, and everything that you’ve taught them over the past eighteen or more years is about to be put to the test. You’re certainly worried for their wellbeing in this new stage, but you’re mostly just proud of your baby.
This is an exciting and terrifying time for your child as well, and in all the hustle and bustle of getting your kid sent off to college, it’s very common for young adults to experience depression or other mental health issues like anxiety, whether they’ve dealt with them before or not.
This is an instance in which your child needs your understanding and support, even as they begin to stretch their wings, so don’t be too quick to write off an unhappy teen as just having a bad attitude. They might be struggling in the face of this big chance and could need your help! Here are some of the best ways that you can help your child with their mental health as they prepare for college.
Search For Schools Right
Looking for colleges is one of the first steps in the process, and it can be incredibly daunting to a young person. They’re making some big decisions right now about the direction they want their life to go! Finding the right fit for them can make all the difference in how enjoyable the coming years are, and they will need to consider a lot of different factors.
Help your child to talk through the things they want out of their college experience– do they want a big school or a small one? Why? How far from home do they want to be? What schools have programs they would like to take? As you start tours, which schools can your kid see themselves as happy at socially, academically, and emotionally? Provide guidance and your opinion when asked for it, but your main job is to act as a sounding board as your child decides what they want.
Get Familiar with Warning Signs
Teenage moodiness is something that every parent has to take in their stride eventually. It may be difficult, but it’s a normal part of being a teenager. However, there’s a difference between your child being cranky from time to time and the warning signs of an issue like depression or anxiety.
Be on the lookout for general hopelessness, a withdrawal from social situations or personal hobbies they used to enjoy, or a drastic change in their regular moods and behaviors. These can all be signs that something serious is going on with your child that they will need help to get through. If you notice these warning signs in your child, consider talking to them about seeking some help from a therapist or other mental health professional.
Model Healthy Coping Skills
When your child was small, you probably learned very quickly about the way they learn things by copying you. If you put your napkin on your lap at the table, your child is more likely to do the same. Conversely, if you swear, you’re bound to hear a bad word come out of your kid’s mouth eventually. Even as they get older, your child will still look to you to see how to behave, and mental health is no exception.
Your child will have a much harder time coping with their own mental health problems if you don’t have a healthy way of coping with your own. Model for them how you deal with stressful situations in a calm, healthy way, by taking deep breaths, making plans for addressing the stressful thing, and letting yourself feel stressed without letting the emotion overpower you. You can model almost anything the same way, like logical decision making, interpersonal relationships, or reframing difficult situations in a more positive light.
Communicate with Care
Sometimes talking to your teen can feel like trying to have a conversation with someone who speaks a different language. It can be hard to relate to someone who’s going through such a different stage in their life than you are! But if you’ve taken the time to build a trusting relationship with your child over the years and you approach difficult conversations with understanding and a willingness to listen, you can help your child a lot through communication.
Your kid might not want to talk to you about their mental health, and this is okay! It’s a tough subject for anyone, and you can do the most good by assuring them that you’re here to listen if they decide they do want to talk, and offering options of other people that can help them, like another adult in the family or a therapist. If they do approach you with an issue, remain calm throughout the conversation. Really listen to what your teen is telling you, answer their questions honestly, provide advice when you’re asked for it, and do your best to treat them with the love you’ve always had for your baby, and the respect you have for this brand-new adult.
Above all, if you want to help your child with any mental health struggles they may be going through in this transitionary period in their lives, you just need to be there for them and ensure that they know it. Going off to college will be emotional and hard for you both, and it may be hard on your child’s mental health, but as long as you keep providing support and love, you’ll both adjust to this new stage in your lives and come out of it happier, healthier, and wiser!