Kids to College: Survival Guide for Parents

Parenthood has two big transitions, when your children arrive and when they leave.  Both can be terrifying.  And after saying goodbye to your college student on move-in day, one of the hardest things to come to grips with at home is the sudden lack of information. You’re excluded from your student’s experience in a new way, and no one can invite you in except your student — and that’s only if they want to. That doesn’t mean you disappear from their lives.  But it does mean you play a different role.  You’re going from manager to consultant and supporter.

Here are some things parents and other professionals suggest to make the transition better and healthier for everyone.  The following tips have been collected from several articles and books that are proven to be effective and trustworthy.  Give these ideas a try.  

Give them space. College students need a grace period to meet people, get involved in campus life and focus on their new environment without constant reminders of home. No matter how eager they are for college, it’s not easy to get used to new surroundings and sleeping in a new bed. This is hard for some, extremely hard for others and super easy for a few.  Give them the space to figure it out. That doesn’t mean you don’t have conversations, but follow their lead. One of your kids may text constantly, while the other might not touch base for weeks on end.  

Be prepared to listen then let go. Often kids call or text when they’re feeling low, and trust me, you’ll hear about the roommate drama, the rotten exam or the malfunctioning laundry machines. But once kids have unloaded, they move on, leaving you to worry into the night about a problem that likely doesn’t exist for them the next day. Or if it does, it’s their issue to solve. Try not to let their download ruin your day. It’s probably not ruining theirs.

Offer guidance, not a quick fix. If your child is struggling with a normal issue, such as not finding people they like, hear them out (see above), because a sympathetic ear is helpful. But don’t leap to offer a fix, such as contacting a resident adviser on their behalf. We want our kids to become competent and independent, and they need to develop problem-solving skills. They also won’t learn to get comfortable with discomfort and build resilience if we handle things for them.

Point them to resources. When your student complains about homework or a dorm challenge, ask them about resources on campus, and nudge them to pursue those avenues. You should no longer be their one stop shop when it comes to solutions.  They need to seek out other avenues.  Colleges have staff ready to help students. Resist the urge to micromanage. If students don’t know where to start, suggest they check with their resident adviser. Resources include the tutoring center, academic advising, career services center, student health clinic, financial aid office, multicultural center, first-generation center and more. Engaging with other students and professional staff is the best way to adjust. Keep pointing them back to campus.

Ordering groceries for them? Stop. You’re paying for a meal plan, after all. And no, your student doesn’t need a laundry service. Campuses provide washing machines. Students need to develop life skills, and now’s the time to start. Their roommates and future partner will appreciate your not making life too easy for them. Hold back on all the extras.

Know when to get involved. You know your child best, and no one is paying attention like you are. If you suspect a mental-health condition is sending your student into a tailspin, or if they’re experiencing a recurring illness or unfamiliar allergy that doesn’t sound normal, it’s okay to ask questions and follow up. When a health or safety issue isn’t being addressed in a timely way, a phone call from a parent can make a difference.

I understand that this sounds simple but it’s not easy.  I am always here to help.  Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions!  Give us a call at (562) 537-2947.  

Written by Lisa Smith

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