You may not be the one going to college, but as the parent of a high schooler applying to it, you might as well be.

You’re as hopeful, excited and scared as your son or daughter (well, maybe more). And, let’s face it, at times it feels like this is happening to you. So how can you keep your cool while toeing the line between offering support and creating structure? 

The most important thing you can do is communicate with your child, says Liz Morrison, owner of a mental health practice for children, adolescents and families in New York City. “Just like teens sometimes don’t want to talk to their parents, a lot of times parents don’t want to talk to their teens,” she says. Why? “They’re nervous that they’re going to create a larger distance, push their child away or overstep boundaries.” 

But if you approach your child by showing that you’re there for them and are willing to help as much or — brace yourself — as little as they’d like, you will weather the storm. Here are some real-world tips from parents and experts on how to help you and your teen manage stress between now and college move-in day

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1. Let Your Teen Own the Application Process

While it’s tempting to take the reins — you want to help your child, after all — Denise Pope, founder of Challenge Success at Stanford University, says you’re better off laying low. “In a year, these kids should be able to go to college and make their own decisions around laundry, courses and food,” Pope says. And if you’re managing their applications for them, you’re not exactly setting a strong precedent. “What we usually say is, ‘Let the child drive the bus.’” That means having a conversation with your teen up front about what needs to be done, sharing with them any relevant knowledge and then being somewhat hands-off

2. Compartmentalize the Conversation

Loosening the reins doesn’t necessarily mean letting go completely. If you still want to be involved without being overbearing, Pope suggests carving out a half-hour window each week to talk college applications. Beyond that though, try to keep the topic off-limits as much as possible.

3. But Know Your Child May Not Want To Talk
Even if you limit the college talk, you might find your teen is none too interested in discussing their applications. If that’s the case, don’t force it. Instead, Morrison suggests your child seek outside support, whether it’s from a friend, family member or a professional, like a high school counselor at school or a therapist. “What matters is the teen has someone to talk to — it doesn’t necessarily matter who,” she says. 

As for you, you’re bound to have thoughts and feelings on the college application process, and you too should have someone to talk to — be it a friend, a therapist or other parents going through the same process. Opening up and finding an outlet will allow you to be a cheerleader for your son or daughter during high-pressure times, which is what they really need. 

4. Be Up Front About What You Can (and Can’t) Afford

Money and financial aid is one area in which parents can and should be involved. Delaying discussion could cause unnecessary stress down the line, so it’s important to be clear right out of the gate. “If parents have financial aid requirements or limits on how much they’re willing to spend on college, those should be conveyed in a discussion early on,” Pope says. 

5. Avoid the “Dream College or Bust” Mentality

Sally Rubenstone, a parent, college counselor and senior adviser at College Confidential, says it’s best to support the possibility of your child attending a range of schools rather than focusing solely on the hyper-selective ones. For example, she made sure her son found schools he liked at every tier he was applying, and he ended up choosing Tulane University over an Ivy League at which he was accepted. “I’ve known parents who are devastated when their child is admitted to a ‘lower Ivy,’ as they call it,” she says. “These folks typically do their kids a tremendous disservice, making them feel that they’ve somehow failed despite exceptional accomplishments.”

It’s about listening to your child and finding ways to support them. As long as you’re doing that and respecting the boundaries your child sets, you’ll be empowering your child to put their best foot forward. And as a parent, that’s your ultimate job in the college application process.