Moving two college kids into their residence hall and apartment for fall takes a lot of preparation, and this fall will be no different. Except along with the sweating and heaving of boxes and furniture, I will have the added task of helping both of them mentally prepare for what they will encounter.
For my college senior, she will be living close to campus, but her college is small and she is will have little trouble social distancing, masking, and doing all those things that seniors do to complete their degrees and start planning for life after college.
My college freshman, however, is heading to a bigger campus and because he has not “done college” before, much less in the middle of a pandemic, he has no idea what he needs to do on top of all those success strategies that I teach my own students in a first-year seminar.
As a parent, I am going to be honest: I am nervous and anxious, ready to see what this fall will really look like. As an educator, I am cautious and planning, ready to shepherd students through their first semester in a safe and calm manner.
I am also an unrepentant planner. I “need to know” what is going to happen and what I need to do. At the moment that I am writing this blog, we are about a month out from the fall semester starting, and we still are not sure what those first few days or weeks will look like.
But like any planner who tries desperately to divine what the future holds, I can find comfort in envisioning what we need to do and how to prepare for it. To that end, I believe there are 5 skills your student will need to make the most of a very uncertain time. We have gotten this far with developing these skills, and I believe they will get us through the rest of the year.
#1 Managing time and tasks like a pro. Most first-year college students stumble through trying to manage their time in the face of a large amount of “free” time during the week. All college students will need to be extra vigilant about what they need to do and when they need to do it. Think about a typical semester: Your student goes to 4-5 classes as week, studies when not in class, and then socializes or works during the other time. Now, consider a Fall 2020 semester: Your student goes to one class that meets in small groups, with masks on, and then logs into another course that is being delivered remotely. Then, they have to log into their online course work to complete a quiz before attending their next class. With a mix of online, partly online, and some face-to-face, your student will be challenged to not only remember what they need to do but where they need to be (and with what equipment).
What you can do to help them develop this skill: Get them a dry-erase white board and a planner (if they are not good with an electronic calendar) and encourage them to use it each day to track their tasks. I also suggest a daily time management strategy such as writing down the top three things they need to do each day and stick the note where they can view it repeatedly.
#2 Being flexible. Go with the flow. Expect the unexpected. Prepare for the worst scenario. Don’t get caught up things turning out exactly the way you planned. These are admittedly hard to do when there is heaviness of a world in chaos, but trying to make things happen the way you want them to happen when they are not going to happen that way is one way to stress you out. One thing I have learned–and often fail at practicing–is that when you let go of any expectation of how you think things should be.
What you can do to help them develop this skill: Coach them ahead of time how they will deal with disappointments or things not turning out the way they want. Remind them of the larger purpose or goal so they do not focus on the minor details.
#3 Destressing. I cannot help seeing the word “distressing” in “destressing,” but finding a way to minimize distress by learning to destress will be a key to their overall mental and physical health. While hitting the gym or hanging out with lots of friends may need to be put on hold, there are a variety of safe practices they can do to destress.
What you can do to help them develop this skill: Encourage them to write down their feelings in a journal or practice meditation, visualization, and deep breathing. These can be done by themselves and cost nothing. If Getting outside and exercising or enjoying nature is helpful, too. Ask them to schedule at destress break at least once a day.
#4 Being vigilant. Our lax attitudes and forgetfulness have no doubt contributed to the situation we are in. While it may be difficult to remember to wear a mask, distance from people, wash your hands, clean before and after using community items, it will be necessary for us to take care of our community.
What you can do to help them develop this skill: Encourage your student to create routines. For example, every time they come back from classes at the end of the day, they can wipe down their laptop, books, and backpack. Or they can take their breakfast on the go each morning and find a quiet place outside to enjoy it.
#5 Finding joy. You may think I have lost my mind here. At a time when it seems as though things are out of control, how in the world can we find anything to be happy about? Finding joy in the moment may be the most important thing we can do, though. As much as I have mourned my daughter’s cancelled study abroad and research internship, I have also embraced the joy of having her home and getting to know her better. We have laughed, cried, binged our favorite shows, planted a garden, and cooked together. Those were pretty joyful moments. The truth is that we will always find ourselves in moments of crisis and tragedy at some points of our life, and rather than wishing it away, we need to be able to walk through it with our eyes on what can be joyful within it.
What you can do to help them develop this skill: Coach your student to find the good in any situation by asking them what are the positives and what was the unexpected good of the situation?
I know I need to follow my own advice, especially the last one. The joy that I find at this time is that my kids will learn how to deal with adversity, to temper their expectations, and change their viewpoint when they feel stuck. They will also learn how to care for their community and not just themselves. There is joy in thinking they are learning an important life lesson about being safe, about finding better ways to do things, about the importance of their education.