Monitoring Yourself as Means to Help Your Child Manage College Application Stress
The most important thing you can do as a parent to help your child manage the stress of the college application process is to keep your cool.
That's right, parents need to manage their own stress about the process as the best primary method for de-stressing their child. Many parents are equally or more stressed about their kid's collegiate future than their kid. From "How will we pay for it?", to "Will Suzie get accepted anywhere?", to "How am I going to handle my baby being gone?", parents have a myriad of legitimate (and sometimes irrational, e.g. "Will Frankie know how to clean a toilet in his apartment?") concerns. However, there is no way a parent can calm his or her child while exhibiting clear anxiety over the process him- or herself. While parents should never ignore their own personal issues, you should know how to control your visible behaviors--meaning your verbal and nonverbal messages. While some stress may peek its ugly head out at times, your child should not be witnessing you experiencing a daily meltdown over his college application process or anything close to this!
Once you figure out how to control yourself, develop a game plan for you, as the parent. Talk to experts, spouses, ex-spouses, grandparents, school counselors, your own psychologist (whomever-is-relevant!) to work on getting answers to your own questions or eradicating personal anxieties. Meanwhile, develop and use clear and calm lines of communication with your prospective college student to share your anxieties in a healthy fashion. Pick wise times. For example, don't start venting your anxieties after your student vents his or hers. This only piles on the stress. Rather, at these times provide them the assurance and support they are needing from you.
Also remember that some anxieties might be best kept to yourself, like your worry that Suzie isn't smart enough to be accepted anywhere. Many of your concerns, on the other hand, are very important to talk about with your child. For example, how your child's college education will be financed. Your prospective student needs to have a relative idea of how willing and able you are, as their parent, to provide money to pay for their college experience. While that answer alone should not be the single determinant for your child's college list, the information is important to your student as he or she researches schools and considers making very adult-like decisions about taking own his own personal debt to pay for his education. If you feel there are life skills your kid needs before heading off to college (like washing her own clothes), develop your own timeline across their senior year for teaching new skills. Whether to share your timeline with your child depends on whether you think your child would be appreciative, turned off, or more stressed by your own goals for him or her. Sneak little life lessons into conversations as you see fit.
Beyond learning to appropriately manage your own stress about the process, just be there for your child. You know your child better than anyone. Genuinely analyze whether she needs a lot of guidance through the process or whether this is the time to let her start forging her own path. Allowing your child to take the reins does not mean okaying every idea they pass by you. Rather it means letting her drive the car, while your foot rests on the auxiliary brake and your hand hovers over the horn--just a bit anyway.
To the extent you are capable, provide whatever you and your child agree he needs and offer to provide what you think your kid needs. This may be help developing a timeline for the application process, hiring a college consultant, or just providing an ear to listen. Finally, keep things in perspective. Yes, pursuing a college education is an important decision in many ways. However, there are many paths to get there. There isn't just one right college for everyone; there's many. With proper research and planning, your student can find the right fit for him or her. That's the ultimate objective. Even if that match isn't made in the normal or desired time frame, it can be obtained if you don't give up. Keep the appropriate perspective and help your child to keep the appropriate perspective too. Picking the right college is not a life or death decision and the process to get to that decision should not be treated that way either.
In summary, parents, manage yourself, then offer to your assistance to your prospective student.