It is the end of another school year and your student’s next academic steps are most likely far from their minds. Instead, they are thinking about sleeping in, starting a summer job, or just enjoying the lack of a schedule for now. I am sure that developing resilience, or the ability to bounce back from setbacks, is not what they had in mind these next few months.
But now is a good time to start the conversation about how your student is developing (or not yet developing) one of the most important college readiness characteristics. Your young adult’s pathway after high school will, for sure, provide them plenty of opportunities to demonstrate resilience. Are they ready?
Why is it important to start talking about resilience with your student? Here are just a few reasons that resilience is a necessary trait for success after high school:
- First-year college students often stumble early on. Because the transition from high school to college is a leap in terms of preparing for classes and studying, even high-achieving students stumble on their first assignments. Students who are used to earning As and Bs can earn Cs, Ds, and even Fs on tests or papers within the first few weeks of the term. What they do when they experience low grades can make a huge difference on how the semester turns out.
- Disappointments will happen. Maybe they don’t get the roommate they wanted, or the classes they were most excited about taking are full and they have to wait until next semester. Some disappointments will seem minor to us, but for a new student who is dealing with the stress of starting a new chapter in their lives, these blows can seem insurmountable at the time.
- Relationships will change. I often tell new college students that the first three or four weeks of the term is a common time for students to sever their relationships with significant others. They often chuckle at my announcement until the time comes when it happens. Relationships with friends change as well when young adults began to meet new people and develop new interests. Those changes may come with a sense of loss or disappointment.
- There are no “do-overs” in college (and career, for that matter). High school students may be used to being allowed to retake a test, redo an assignment, or turn something in late for partial credit. In college, that will most likely not happen and to ask for these accommodations may do more harm than good.
What can you do to help guide your student to develop resiliency now and later? How they view the setback and how they respond to it will be keys to resilience. Here are tips for improving their flexibility in dealing with challenges:
- Normalize setbacks and obstacles. Talk to your student about typical challenges they may face now and when they get to college. Remind them that all students have to deal with disappointments.
- Neutralize the language around setbacks and obstacles. Your student failed a test? Speak of the situation in neutral language by calling it an “experience” or “event.” When we use negative language, we increase the stress surrounding it.
- Focus on next steps. Instead of rehashing the past and asking “How did this happen?” first focus on the best next steps. Asking questions such as “What do you think you need to do next?” are a start. After the situation is handled, then you may want to ask “What were the steps that led to the issue?” and “What is the takeaway here?” The goal should be helping them develop self-awareness and not to shame them for making poor initial decisions.
- Praise the process, rather than the outcome. As your student develops resilience skills, focus your feedback on how they handle the process of dealing with the challenge. Instead of saying, “I am so glad you got that fixed,” consider saying, “I am proud of you for identifying the reason that happened and making some changes because of it.”
The good news about developing resilience is that your student will have plenty of opportunities to learn how to handle setbacks effectively. You can help them with the process, and perhaps minimize some of the stress of dealing with disappointments, by coaching them now.