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De-Stress Over the Holidays With Seniors and College Students

Word to the wise, parents: Your vision of the Thanksgiving holiday may be different from that of your high school senior or returning college student. While there may well be relaxing times feasting around the dinner table or watching a football game, your kids will likely have a different agenda now that they have either left the nest or are preparing to do so soon.

For high school seniors, the last big round of college applications are due in just over a month so deadlines are looming. That is, perhaps, in your mind. Not necessarily theirs. If you haven't already, read the October National Geographic cover story on teen brains. It's a good reminder that your high school student's brain is not fully formed. While parents may be focused on getting essays written ahead of time, our kids are living a bit more in the moment. To them, Dec. 31 is a long ways away.

To help keep perspective and pace the college process, there are lots of good resources out there. Veteran High School Counselor Patrick O'Connor has a new book, College Is Yours 2.0, out this fall with a simple four-word message for students and families: Relax, and be yourself. It also has tips for how parents should talk about college and navigating the process. Remember, experts agree on this point: Let the student lead.

For students returning home for their first fall break, Thanksgiving can be a wonderful family reunion. But for parents it can take some adjustment, as your child has returned as an increasingly, independent young adult. For good tips on managing the situation, check out a recent article, Heading Home for the Holidays, by
Shari Glaser, director of Parent and Family Programs at Western Michigan University. Parents should come to some agreements with their college-age kids before the long weekend begins to minimize conflict. For instance, talk together about how you want to spend time together but try not to plan every moment. Kids are going to want to spend time with their friends, or perhaps, just sleep and decompress. Go over house rules, but consider readjusting them to accommodate your maturing student.

Thanksgiving is a good time to check in with your college student and gauge how he or she is feeling. Along with the fun and freedom, there are lots of adjustments and often stress. Find a private time to talk with your college-age son or daughter, away from all the extended family, to see how it's really going.

Venting to you might help your child realize the cause of any anxiety and help put the problems in perspective. If the issues are significant, you can help plug him or her into existing campus-support services to stay on track.

The College De-Stress Handbook by Jeff Goelitz and Robert Rees from the Institute of HeartMath is a good resource on test-anxiety, time management, and decision-making.

Happy Turkey Day!

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