What do we mean when we say we want to raise “successful” children? Success is hard to measure and may mean different things to everyone. When checking off the achievement box is what defines success, it’s too easy to forget that it’s the qualities in our children that might lead to those accomplishments that matter — not the goals themselves. While we want to protect our children from harm, what we too often end up doing is protecting them from learning. It teaches them, instead, that their parents believe they are incapable of achieving anything worthwhile on their own.

Raising a successful adult means letting a child be a child, with all the mistakes and consequences and learning that come with childhood. If we cover up our children’s best work with ours, they learn that their best isn’t good enough. If we cover up their weak efforts with our willingness to do more, then they’ll never learn that more is worth doing. If we prop up their procrastination with our ability to nag, they’ll never learn to discipline themselves.

We live in an increasingly competitive world. Those days when a just a 4.0 GPA and a decent SAT score can you get you into an Ivy League, nowadays college graduates who excelled in college may struggle to get jobs, and may need to save for several years just to be able to afford an apartment. Instead of micromanaging your child, here are some great tips on how you can be an encouraging and supportive parent during this time of the year of application decisions:

Promote independence in all aspects of your child’s life.
Your child’s success in college starts in high school. The realities of independent living and decision-making come on very quickly, and often end badly if the student hasn’t had any real practice learning to deal with the consequences of poor planning or mistakes. These skills are not intuitive. Students need guidance in life skills like communications with adults (even if it’s just text), laundry, managing money and their social life. A few stumbles now will give them tools for dealing with future struggles on their own.

If you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to seek the advice of counselors who make it their business to understand the world of higher education and the admissions process.

Help your child to evaluate his/her strengths and weaknesses.
Most students begin the college search with features such as size, location, sports teams and weather and very little thought to academics and what will fit their needs as a student! The process of self-assessment is an important one, and many students do not know where to begin. Your thoughtful insight to their preferences, strengths and weaknesses can help them focus on what is most important to their college experience.

Be honest and listen.
Share your feelings and frustrations with the college process. Be sure to discuss finances openly and express your expectations of your child for his or her contributions. If you can’t support certain choices, be clear about this early in the process. Your honesty will help to keep the lines of communication open. Also, don’t forget to listen to your child’s own feelings and reactions and to watch for what is being unsaid.

Be open to options.
Try to set aside your own experiences and biases toward certain institutions and keep an open mind. No one college or post-graduate option is “right,” there are many choices that can result in a good match for your child. Help your child to recognize that seeking perfection will only result in disappointment. It is much more productive to have a list of 10 schools, at different levels of admission probability, where your child will be happy, than to hold out for one or two dream schools.

Respect your child’s individuality and privacy.
You’ve known it all along, your child is not you, and it will show during this process. Be aware of your child’s desire for privacy. Celebrate their accomplishments modestly and realize that they may not want their selection process, scores, grades or college choices to be open discussion.

Lastly..the choice needs to remain with your child, within the parameters that you agree on as a family. Allowing them as much ownership as they can handle will give them the satisfaction that they really had a choice. You will undoubtedly experience many mixed emotions during this pivotal point in your child’s life, it is how you react to your emotions that will make the difference in the long-term health of the relationship with your college student.

credit: College Options; Launching Your Child’s College Search Process

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