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Photographer: Christian Erfurt | Source: Unsplash

In this article, CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert Bailee shares tips for how parents can help their high school junior deal with stress. For more guidance on the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

As a parent to a busy high school junior, it’s not uncommon to feel concerned for your child’s wellbeing as they navigate a busy school schedule, personal life, and the college application process. You watch them leave early and come home late, drive them to events, and spend time with them on the weekends. You understand, better than most, each source of stress, hope, and fear.

Many parents struggle watching their students feel exhausted and overwhelmed during this time. They could be staying up late, eating infrequently, or spending so much time engrossed in work that they don’t have much time to rest. Though you admire their commitment to all the tasks they’ve taken onto their schedule, you might also be worried. Their determination to get things done, regardless of stress, can make you wonder how to support your child as they reach for their college dreams.

How can I support my child through junior year?

Every student handles junior year differently. Your student may lean on you for advice and support, or they may stay in their room to get everything done on their own. No matter how they like to do it, it’s important to show up for your student in the way they need it—even if that’s different than the way you think might be best.

No matter what, your concern for your child’s wellbeing is understandable and completely valid. There are a number of ways to support them through junior year all the while expressing your care. Below you’ll find a guide for the different ways you can encourage your junior’s dreams while still making sure they take care of themselves along the way.

Ask your junior what they need

One of the key tenets in making someone feel heard and understood during moments of stress is by asking one simple question:

“Do you want to vent, or do you want advice?”

If you realize that your student is going through a rough time—maybe they got a bad grade on a test, they have more homework than they can manage, or they’re stuck in a difficult decision—asking this question can lead to a more productive conversation, especially if your child may not have been inclined to share their experiences previously.

If your junior decides to share their experiences with you, that is your chance to listen. Really pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t focus on thinking about what advice or solution you have to offer. Rather, let them get their thoughts out into the air. When they’re done talking, reflect back on what they asked for—a chance to vent, or your advice? Then, give them what they need as you continue talking.

The key with this piece of advice is not to force solutions if that’s not what your child needs. Junior year is overwhelming, but extra pressure through well-meaning advice isn’t the answer. Instead, give your student the space to express what they need. This will help them feel seen, heard, and hopefully a little less stressed once the conversation has ended.

Silent support is just as helpful

Having a self-driven child may leave you wondering how else you can be there for them, particularly in moments of stress. It’s easy to fall into the impression that you are not expressing your care for your child enough if you are not vocal about it. For example, letting your junior know you’re proud of them can be incredibly important. However, that’s not the only way to show your support.

Especially for immensely independent juniors, it’s sometimes more effective for parents to take a less obvious approach in supporting them. For example, taking small but clear steps like showing up to their game or competition, giving them a ride to an event if you’re able to, and simply making yourself present at the end of the day (by sitting on the couch nearby, or at the dinner table with them without talking) can show that you care. Even if it feels insignificant at the time, small things add up to a large impact, and knowing that your parent is there can make a big difference in a child’s confidence.

The takeaway here is that you don’t have to be constantly having conversations or telling your student you care in order for them to know that you are on their team. Some students even respond better to silent forms of support. If you feel like you’re struggling to get through to your junior, showing up for them in this way can serve as a stronger foundation for their success than other, more obvious tactics.

Don’t force it

The biggest piece of advice that I can give to parents of fiercely independent, driven high school juniors is not to force them to accept your help. Let your child make their own decisions about their school and extracurricular life, in addition to college applications.

That’s not to say that your perspective isn’t important—it absolutely is! Having conversations about your child’s future is essential, especially when it comes to things like paying for college. When discussing their future, give your junior the freedom to explore their options with you and consider how realistic their possibilities are. Ultimately, however, they should be making their own decisions on how to manage their time. After all, it is their future, and they will need to have decision-making skills as they grow into adulthood as well.

Everyone needs something different

Ultimately, your child may receive some parts of this guidance better than others. Depending on what they need in the moment, some steps can be more effective, while some may fall short. What matters, though, is that you continue to show up for your child in the best way that you can. Even the fact that you are reading this article makes it clear that you care about your junior and their wellbeing, which means that they probably know that, too.

This parental guide was written by Bailee Peralto, Brown University ‘21. If you want to get help with your college applications from Bailee or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today.