By Vivian Tsai, Senior Director of TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc.

April 7, 2020

If I had written this blog post at any other time before today, I likely would have sat down at my computer and drafted a list of the things you will want to know and do. I would have itemized the necessary tasks: review that 529 plan asset allocation, schedule tests and campus visits, and hoard those Bed Bath & Beyond coupons all in preparation for your child’s college adventure. There is still merit in that kind of information, and I plan to write that piece in a future blog post. In this post, however, I would like to start with what I believe is the most important thing that we can provide for and instill in our children in preparing them for college — and perhaps adulthood in general: resilience.

Young people across the nation have seen their lives upended, with their schools being closed, social activities curtailed, and SAT and ACT exams postponed or canceled. In a very short period, they have seen that everything that they had known or planned for is now different — that their lives are radically changed.

I see this firsthand. My college student sons have been home from their campuses for a few weeks now, as we shelter in place, and now look to finish their respective sophomore and junior years attending classes from their desks in their shared bedroom in our home.

A conversation I had over the weekend with my younger son made me think of a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings in a poignant scene that has always remained with me:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We all wish that this had not happened in our time, but our children take their lead from us, and if we are stressed and anxious, they will also be stressed and anxious. If we can show them how to face these challenging times, if we take things one day at a time, prioritizing family and keeping ourselves healthy and focused, then they will benefit.

So here are some things you can do to help them move through this period:

  • Listen to them with compassion for what they have lost – their friends, their freedom, their security
  • Give them a purpose – important things like grocery shopping, household chores, or even planning a future family vacation
  • Encourage connection – allow them the screen time and social media access
  • Spend time with them – make sure that a family game or movie night is somewhere on your weekly rotation
  • Allow them to dream – talk with them about their future, about what they want to do and where they want to go

A year from now, these children will be older, wiser, and more resilient because of this experience. They will be one year closer to college or in college, and the lessons learned from this time with you will have been invaluable, and very likely, lifelong.


About the author:

Vivian Tsai is Senior Director and Head of Relationship Management for TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing, Inc. (TFI), a wholly-owned subsidiary of TIAA. TFI operates as the 529 Plan Program Manager for the States of California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. She resides in California, where her sons are students at the California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo and the University of California at Berkeley.