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Transitioning to College: It doesn’t start in the fall

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Student trying to find something in his bagThough most kids who are going off to college won’t be leaving for a handful of months, at this point in time they are likely deciding (or have recently decided) where they are actually going to be attending college. Once that decision is made, there are many other aspects of this transition that then require attention in the coming months (i.e. housing forms, meal plan decisions, course registration, financial/scholarship applications, etc.).

As the ball gets rolling, the reality of this future transition begins to solidify itself as decisions continue to get made. Though the actual transition will not likely occur for another 6 or 7 months, the emotions (positive and negative) and anxieties around the transition can begin percolating at this time.

Because of these percolating emotions, there is an opportunity for early discussion around the transition. There is a reason why “the system” isn’t designed for kids to leave for school a day after they learn they have been accepted somewhere: that’s arguably too much to adapt to in too short of a period of time. The fact that this process of leaving for college can sometimes take almost a year from applying to settling into the dorms gives everyone an opportunity to talk about, explore, and prepare for these changes before they actually occur.

Today’s insights on how to begin handling and discussing this transition before it occurs come from Family Institute therapist Amy Drucker, MSFMT, AMFT.

 


 

Get excited — but think about what’s scary too.

Kids who are leaving for college are likely very excited, and simultaneously very nervous about the big step. Given that they have time to process and prepare for this new chapter, it’s helpful for them to start thinking about what they are most fearful about, as well as what can they anticipate they may need to help make this transition go as smooth as possible — what do they need to make themselves feel cozy and safe when they leave.

Alternately, going to college is such an exciting and thrilling time! Once they know where they are going to school, they can start researching the happenings on campus, intramural activities, maybe familiarize themselves with fun things to do in the city or area they are moving to. Sparking interest and getting excited about their departure and what they will have opportunities to get involved in or experience can go a long way in helping them adjust with greater ease to their new environment when they arrive.

There’s also the issue of good old senioritis to consider. Senioritis marks the beginning stages of this transition, so there is some level of normalcy in the perceived apathy that seniors exhibit in the last months of their high school career as they start thinking about their future and changes that await them. Students certainly shouldn’t “slack off,” but through these last few months of high school, students are (whether consciously or not) navigating some new level of independence and taking responsibility for themselves — if that means they fall a little behind and realize what skills they need to cultivate to catch up or practice better time management, then so be it.

It should also be noted that many seniors do not exhibit any signs of senioritis. In either case, this time is a normal part of the beginning phase of this transition from high school to college.

 

Parents have their own anxiety about the transition—whether it’s their first or last child going to college.

Parents, whether sending off their first or last child to school, experience a lot of anxiety about their soon-to-be legal adult’s safety (amongst a myriad of other things). There are many things that parents do for their children when they are under their roof that they simply will not be able to continue to do when their child leaves. Beginning to step back from some of those things (even something like doing their laundry — teach your son or daughter how to do their laundry!) and allowing their child to start cultivating some more independence will go a long way in empowering their sons or daughters before they leave.

Also, parents tend to fear for their sons’ and daughters’ safety on college campuses. In preparation, parents should educate themselves on the resources (emergency and voluntary) available at the university. Sitting down with their sons or daughters to provide them with these resources and have a discussion (not a lecture!) with them about how they can be proactive and preventative in keeping themselves and others safe (don’t travel alone, don’t travel alone at night, know what resources are available — from mental health to safe ride options) can help assuage anxieties.

Additionally, parents and students should come up with a realistic and agreed upon plan for communication once the transition takes place: A phone call every day? Every few days? Texts? For parents, not communicating with their child and thus feeling like they don’t know what is going on with them or if they are safe is arguably the facet of this transition that can contribute to most anxiety. A plan of communication helps ease anxieties and lays the foundation for the beginning of a new relationship between parent and their young adult child.

 

Remember that siblings are impacted too.

Siblings are a unique facet of this transition and often their feelings aren’t addressed (not intentionally, they just seem to be overlooked) — but this is a very major transition for them too. They may be the only ones left in the house, or they may have a really close bond with their brother or sister and them leaving is going to be a great loss, or perhaps some siblings are so young they don’t even recognize what is going on. Discussing with siblings a. the fact that the transition is happening, b. how they feel about it, and c. what (if any) their concerns are regarding it, etc. are helpful things to explore.

 

Bottom line, there are plenty of things to do now and in the months prior to freshman orientation that can exponentially improve everyone’s experience around the transition when it actually takes place.

Simultaneously, it is important to remain in the present and enjoy the time that the family unit has together. When we spend so much time thinking about the future, we miss out on what is happening now. There is a certain degree of preparation, discussion, and planning that can and should begin to happen, but be mindful of not letting it take you so far into the future that you miss these present moments and these opportunities.

 


 

Amy Drucker is an associate Marriage and Family therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern. To read her full bio or make an appointment, please visit our website.

 

The Family Institute offers affordable counseling throughout the Chicagoland area. To learn more about our therapy and mental health services, please visit our website.

 

Have We Lost Perspective of Our Children’s Need for Sleep?

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Sleeping Beauty 4This month’s Family Institute Tip of the Month addresses just how much sleep our children needs, as well as the consequences of not getting enough.

From this month’s tip:

Cutting corners when it comes to sleep is more hazardous to our kids’ welfare than most parents realize. We may be so accustomed to playing fast and loose with sleep — we often compromise our own as we go about our over-scheduled lives — that we’ve lost perspective on our children’s need for sleep.

What scientists have come to understand is that during sleep, the brain consolidates what’s been learned during waking hours, making that learning accessible later on. In other words, studying for tomorrow’s test is more effective when it’s followed by a good night’s sleep. It’s as though the sleep process stores new learning in a kind of mental hard drive, where that learning proves easier to recall when needed.

 

Sharing knowledge is a vital part of the Institute’s mission. To widely disseminate knowledge about family relationships, the Institute created Tip of the Month, our two online eBlasts. One is geared specifically toward couples and the other toward families.

Go to our Tip of the Month webpage to read the full tip and to sign up to receive our Tips via email.

Grounded in research and best clinical practices, the “Tips” highlight how to promote strong couples and healthy families by focusing on timely and relevant topics. Each Tip of the Month is written by a member of the Institute’s clinical staff. The “Tips” are concise and informative.

Locker Terror: How to find the real source of back-to-school anxiety

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It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Nikki Lively, MA, LCSW. Nikki is a staff therapist at The Family Institute with over 10 years of experience in providing individual, couples and family therapy.

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LOCKERThinking back to the autumns of my childhood, I remember being so excited to go shopping with my Mom and younger sister for new school clothes and school supplies. Each year, I loved picking out a few special things to wear for the new school year and to this day, I still love the smell of a brand new notebook. 

However, the first day of my 6th grade year was the beginning of Intermediate school (i.e. “junior high”) and I was more scared than excited. I was leaving my old, familiar elementary school building and entering a new building with older kids (8th graders!) and different teachers, subjects, the works! Somehow I became fixated on the whole locker situation. The halls of my new school building were lined with lockers for each student to store our school stuff. I had no locker experience, and I didn’t easily understand the combination lock and became terrified that I wouldn’t be able to open my locker. Each time I approached my locker I would feel anxious. Each time it actually opened, I felt relieved. It was such an emotional roller coaster! It was probably a major stressor in my 6th grade life for at least for first 2 months of school that year. 

Looking back, I think the stress of all those changes at once with school, not to mention all the changes surrounding being a 12 year old girl and wanting to be “normal”, got concentrated on my locker and manifested in fears about my locker. As an adult and a therapist, I now know this happens a lot with anxiety. I always tell my clients that the focus of our anxiety can be really odd and is sometimes not obviously linked to its trigger. In fact, becoming overly focused on one thing in our environment like that is often more a red flag for our overall emotional state than the thing we are so focused on. We often need to “zoom out” and look at the bigger picture to figure out what the stress or anxiety is really all about.  

Case in point, once I figured out the locker thing, I moved onto worries about other stuff like having the right pair of blue jeans, and having the right haircut, etc. In 6th grade you just want to feel OK about yourself, have friends, and fit in, and at the time, my locker ineptitude was a threat to all that! 

 

To read Nikki Lively’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

The Yellow Container: Partnering with your children to handle back-to-school stress

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It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Family Institute staff therapist Lisa Gordon, PhD. Lisa treats individuals, couples and families, and is a frequent presenter on parenting topics.

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schoolbus-81717_150When our oldest son was in first grade, he needed to start taking the bus to school for the first time.  My husband had previously driven him to school, and the short drive for father and son was a sweet way to start the morning. 

My son opposed taking the bus, as my husband’s plush car filled with Laurie Berkner tunes far outshone the yellow metal container resounding with boy boasts and body odor.  I decided to ask my son what he needed to make the bus ride to school more tolerable — how could I help him weather this new mode of transportation? — prepared for my son’s potential response of “Five dollars.  Five dollars per every bus ride would really bolster my ability to ride the bus.”

I still risked the question. My son replied, “It would really help me if you wrote me a note each morning, and I could read it on the bus ride to school.” 

So one written note each morning could simultaneously ease my son’s bus ride, practice his reading, and provide him with one extra dose of love and pride from his mother?  I felt like I had just tried on my thin jeans and they fit! 

This story reminds me that (1) our children often know what they need to reach for new skills and growth, and (2) parents don’t need to have all of the answers themselves; sometimes children can partner with us to navigate a challenge. 

 

To read Lisa Gordon’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

A Dorm Room with A View: How cognitive behavioral therapy can ease back-to-school nerves

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It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Family Institute staff clinician Jennifer Welbel, LPC. Jennifer is a therapist in the Institute’s Anxiety and Panic Treatment and Depression Treatment Programs. She specializes in using cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure therapies (ERP) to treat children, adolescents, and adults with obsessive-compulsive and related disorders and depression. 

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windowLike many incoming college freshman, I was both excited and nervous about starting college. I couldn’t wait to find out where I would be living, who my roommate would be, and what classes I would be taking.

However, my nervous anticipation was quickly filled with extreme anxiety when I learned that, due to extenuating circumstances, I wouldn’t have my dorm assignment until I got to campus. As all my high school friends were chatting with their new roommates and buying dorm decorations, I had no clue who I would be living with, let alone where I would be living. The uncertainty felt intolerable, but I kept reminding myself that everything would be fine once I got school.

However, when I finally arrived on campus, I quickly learned that I was being placed in all girls dorm, in a single, and it overlooked a cemetery. At that point, I remember being completely overwhelmed and anxious. I was stuck with everything I had dreaded – no roommate and no boys! I was terrified. I remember wondering, “What if I don’t make any friends? What are the other people going to be like in this dorm? What if I don’t have any fun without a roommate?”

Reflecting on that situation, I now know that the anxiety and nerves that I felt were normal. I was in a new situation—one in which I felt isolated and alone. I could have chosen to be upset about the situation and worry about the ‘what-if’s’, but instead, I shifted how I was thinking and focused on what I had control over. I had control over my behaviors, specifically my interactions with others, and I had control over how I viewed the situation. From that point forward, I made an effort to introduce myself to all the other girls on the dorm, and I learned that most of them were also in singles. I also always kept my door open, except when I was sleeping or away, which allowed my friends to visit and made me feel less isolated. Additionally, instead of thinking that I was going to be miserable without a roommate, I viewed it as an advantageous situation. I was getting the best of both worlds– I was able to see my friends when I wanted, but I was also able to have my alone time.

Knowing what I do now, I realize that, without even knowing it, I used cognitive behavior therapy. Instead of focusing on the negative and isolating myself in my room, I changed my behaviors and adjusted how I viewed the situation. And, in the end, I had an incredible freshman year and met some of my closest friends in that dorm.

 

To read Jennifer Welbel’s full bio or to make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

Crazy-Making-Organized-Chaos: Finding family connection amidst the back-to-school transition

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schoolbus-81717_150It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Karen Krefman, MSMFT, LMFT. Karen Krefman maintains an active clinical practice at The Family Institute specializing in the treatment of couples and individuals.

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My husband and I have had the privilege and joy of raising four sons, who have now all reached adulthood and left the proverbial nest. Looking back I remember their elementary school years as a time of what I affectionately termed “crazy-making-organized-chaos.”  Born within a seven-year period, they formed a rambunctious, energetic band of brothers; theirs is still a close knit sibship.

As a mom I looked forward to the start of the school year, because it brought some welcomed additional structure to the day and slightly less direct hands-on parenting responsibilities, if only during the hours of 9-3.  I believe my sons, to varying degrees, looked at the start of the school year with some anticipation and excitement along with a good dose of ambivalence and nervousness because it brought to the forefront our parental expectations to buckle down, apply themselves to their studies and basically do the best that they could.

When the youngest was born in August, my oldest was entering 2nd grade. Being sleep deprived, postpartum and hormonal, and rather exhausted to be sure, I was looking to him to lead the pack and set the example for his brothers.

What I hadn’t expected was that he would be clingy, reluctant to leave home and even a bit teary at times. It was uncharacteristic of him and I simply didn’t get it. How could this be? He had entered first grade happy, ready and confident in a seven-year-old sort of way.

Reflecting back with the wisdom and perspective that age and maturity can bring I realized that I had failed to fully understand and acknowledge the extent to which he was having to adjust to the transition of this newest member entering the family, and that his behavioral protest was his way of trying to communicate this to me. Spending some additional quality time talking alone with him about the changes happening in the family and helping him put words to his feelings certainly would have helped.

As a therapist in my clinical practice, I often tell parents that it is important to consider all transitions and changes happening within a family when their children are starting a new school year, as it may shed light as to why some can have trouble with the adjustment.

 

To read Karen Krefman’s full bio or to make an appointment, please visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

The Perfect Back-to-School Outfit: First-day-of-school anxiety for girls

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It’s back-to-school time at TFI Talks, and to highlight this time of year our expert therapists are telling their own first-day-of-school stories, and at the same time providing insights into how families, parents and individuals can handle back-to-school stress.

Today’s story comes from Family Institute staff therapist Mallory Rose, LMFT. Mallory treats adults, couples, families, children and adolescents at the Institute with a focus on self-esteem, body image and the transition to parenthood.

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PantsDuring my middle school years, the beginning of each school year represented an exciting time to reconnect with my friends and peers, but that excitement also produced a tremendous amount of anxiety for me.  I worried about whether my peers made new friends over the summer or if they would accept the changes to my interests, personality, and body.

My anxiety manifested itself in my need to have the “perfect outfit” for the first day of school. I felt that if I could just make a great first impression, and feel confident in my “perfect outfit,” then everything would be okay.

The “perfect outfit,” however, was not the perfect solution for my anxiety.  No matter what I ended up wearing that first day, I never felt confident or secure because I never truly addressed my anxiety.  I needed someone to talk to and encourage me to find more productive ways to address my anxiety and feel self-confident.  I needed someone to tell me that I was experiencing anticipatory anxiety, which was developmentally normal.

I wish I know that my peers were experiencing similar anxiety and concerns, and that I was not alone.  I created the self-esteem group for middle school girls partly because of my personal experiences. The self-esteem group helps adolescent girls build their self-confidence, develop peer relationships, and manage their anxiety, stress, and other normal developmental concerns as they hopefully mature into strong, confident, and healthy young women.

 

 

To read Mallory Rose’s full bio, learn more about the self-esteem group for middle school girls or make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for individuals, couples and families at our six Chicagoland locations. Learn more about us at our website.

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