In this season of reflection, holiday, and rest, sometimes families with high school students find it hard to strike the right balance of wanting to talk about what lies ahead (college!) and wanting to give space to each other and take a break from the busy pace of high school. From my years of working with families and students, here are 3 tips for peaceful and enriching conversations this holiday season.
1. Focus on the Journey
First, if you are a family member making conversation and trying to learn about or support a student’s college ambitions, focus not on the result, but on the process. Ask questions like, “How has the experience of preparing for college been for you?” Or, inquire about their current lives – “What has made you feel excited or caused stress this year?” These types of questions allow teens to tell you what they want to talk about, not force the conversation to topics that might bore, stress, or distress them.
Note: this article in Forbes makes a great suggestion of asking a senior “What excites you about college?” and getting them to talk about aspirations or dreams. Anytime you can get a teen talking about aspirations and dreams, you’ll have an incredibly rewarding conversation. Incidentally, this type of conversation – where high school students look inward to figure out what they might want to become – helps them discover the best college or colleges for them.
2. Develop a Game Plan
Next, if you are a parent, dedicate some time to planning and practicalities. Have you talked thoroughly about financing college with your student? This article from The Detroit News gives suggestions for talking with younger students about planning for financing college. You might need to get out the calendar and decide which colleges you need to visit, or plan for important upcoming events such as standardized testing or graduating.
While teens will generally moan and groan at this type of planning, I find that if you can make a good plan with key, critical steps in place that you know need to happen, it takes stress out of every week and weekend in the spring semester. Most high school students know this deep down and will accommodate your helping them to plan if you just make them sit down and do it. Be sure to leave a planning session with delegated items, and then you can check in on accomplishing each goal (registering for the SAT or ACT, submitting the FAFSA, connect with your admissions counselor).
Also don’t forget to incorporate fun events into this planning such as graduation parties, proms, special sporting or artistic endeavors, or meaningful family occasions or trips. (Tip: for help planning, download our Essential College Search Timeline which is FREE when you join.)
3. Find Time to Relax/Recharge and Cherish This Season
Finally, set a specific time for your college conversations, allowing everyone to have unstructured time and time for true rest. When possible, encourage your teen off their device for a few moments to walk the dog or grab your favorite ice cream. Allow them to catch up on sleep, chill out with friends, and eat what they want without nagging. Introduce some humor or joy by trying an adventure together (New restaurant? Try Goat Yoga!? Board game?).
For both students and parents, this precious time together will end too quickly. While many high school students are focused on peers and themselves, they still very deeply need the time and attention of their parents, and parents need to connect with their kids as they grow and change into adults. Making time to spend together can keep lines of communication open and help you know how to better support each other when the pressures of academics and future plans take center stage. This time of reflection may also serve as a constructive reminder to consider personal wellness in your college search.
From our Find The Right College family, we wish you the happiest of holiday seasons, and hope that you find meaningful time together to converse, plan, and rest as you approach the New Year!
Nicole has dedicated the entirety of her 20 year career to encouraging higher education opportunities. After graduating from Vanderbilt, she worked in her alma mater’s admissions office. The, she completed her PhD in Counseling so she could bring that expertise into college counseling. Nicole partnered with her former Vanderbilt colleague, Fitz Totten, to form Find The Right College and support their mission to make trustworthy advising more accessible.