As we have discussed in the past, balancing school and your child’s mental health can be challenging. Even when your child is at a young age, he or she may struggle with certain aspects of the school process. There may be fears relating to day-to-day classroom environments; moving to a new school, class, or grade level can cause anxiety, and in some cases, traditional school environments don’t work out.
Sorting through those potential issues takes a lot of patience and effort. But amidst all of this, many parents will also be looking ahead and considering the next steps in schooling. Down the road, this may well mean planning for college. And while that seems like a lot to think about while you’re juggling your child’s mental health considerations and current schooling situation, it’s also the kind of thing you need to start in on early.
With that in mind, we thought we cover a few tips for parents starting to plan for college for children with mental health considerations.
Finding the Right Schools
The college search should ultimately be about your child’s preferences and will be in the end. However, as a parent beginning to think about this sort of thing, you can certainly research which colleges have developed reputations for handling students with mental health considerations. In recent years, increasing talk of students preparing for college with mental illness has revealed that most college counseling centers have reported increases in students who are on medication and/or seeking help.
Accordingly, many schools have sought to improve their capacity to assist students with these considerations. The hope, of course, is that before long, a vast majority of colleges will be equipped to meet student needs. In the meantime, though, it may well be in your child’s ultimate interest to research different colleges’ reputations and resources in this area.
Knowing the Numbers on Mental Health
We just mentioned that colleges had seen increases in students taking psychiatric medications and/or seeking treatment. Specifically, this comment was made with regard to a 2015 report stating that 88% of college counseling directors had reported such increases. Numbers like these can be helpful to have on hand in a few years when you start to talk to your child about college. Naturally, the prospect of college can be daunting for many children struggling with mental health, and it may be reassuring for them to know that they’re far from alone. It won’t solve anxiety completely, mind you, but children with mental health considerations do need to know that college is for them, too.
Saving to Cover Costs
If you’re beginning to think about college for your child, it’s a good idea to start saving to cover costs whether or not there’s a mental health situation. Many parents start this process early, and according to one helpful guide to RESPs, it’s quite clear that the earlier you start, the more you can get out of a dedicated college savings plan. The government will match funds (20% of up to $2,500) on a per-year basis, meaning that the more years you save, the more “free money” you get toward college tuition.
Again, this is wise for any parent to consider, but it can also be particularly beneficial concerning a child with anxiety or other mental health issues. Paying for college can be an extraordinary burden and will only add to any child’s stress. The more you can cover with advanced planning and saving; the more this particular burden will be lessened.
Instilling resilience in a child struggling with mental health is an idea to be careful with. This is not about trying to take a “tough it out” approach to mental health (unwise and ineffective). With that said, however, another troubling report suggesting prevalent mental health issues in first-year college students suggested that many kids entering college are unprepared for adversity due to parental shielding.
Again, this doesn’t mean your child should be taught to “tough it out.” Help should be given when needed, and there are, of course, special considerations where mental health is concerned. However, finding ways to practice resilience with your child may ultimately be some of the best lifestyle preparation you can offer for college and higher education down the road.
This all may seem like it is far off in the future. But it is smart to start college planning for a child early. Keeping that in mind, the ideas and strategies above may help you to get your child comfortable with the idea of college and ready to take it on.