The time has finally come– your child is going to college! Here are some helpful tips to make the most of the process.
What Are Tips for Parents When Kids Going to College?
You stuck it out, you did your time. And after that bittersweet rush of awkward, frustrating, and (hopefully) rewarding emotions that came along with high school, a brand new chapter of school has been opened– College! Little Johnny and Baby Suzie aren’t so little anymore– they’re only a few steps away from… the real world! So, what happens now?
Well, whether they’re headed across the country or just to the other side of town, those emotions and feelings that came included with the package deal of parenting aren’t going anywhere. But what do you do with those feelings? How do you give your quickly maturing youngsters the space they (and you) desperately need? Yes, they’re still begging you for that extra Chick-Fil-A cash, and yes, they’re still expecting you’ll get the car inspected. More than likely, there’s a whole list of things they’ll need from you regardless of how far away they are, and that’s okay.
If you’ve already experienced that infamous last “goodbye” with your first sons or daughters, or know a few other parents with kids going to college, you probably know what I’m talking about. But each kid is different, and each goodbye comes paired with that familiar and unavoidable sting. Empty nesters, single parents, moms, dads, and everyone in the middle– listen up. Here are a few important tips as your child heads off to college.
College During COVID
This year, some colleges have opted to go entirely online. This may mean your student has opted to skip pricey rent and spend the semester at home. If so, your child’s college experience may be a little different than they had hoped. This may when you need to set some boundaries in your relationship with your college student. This is a time when they normally would be flexing some independence and spreading their wings. Keep in mind they’ll probably still be craving this independence. It’s up to you to determine what these boundaries will look like.
If your student is traveling to campus for the year during COVID, you may have some anxiety about their health and well-being. It’s okay to talk with them about these concerns. It may mean you’re not comfortable visiting them on campus or helping them move in. It may just mean you may have to wear a mask when you visit. Keep in mind that they may also have anxiety about going back to campus, and encourage them to be honest and open about them.
1. Be Excited About Their College Experience!
I get it, you’re sad. Rightfully so, too. You’re probably already excited, but it’s critical that you remain selflessly supportive each step of the way: university tours, supplies shopping, clothes packing, dorm room organization, you name it. The last thing you want your child to feel is guilt for accomplishing something great. Fight the tears and avoid talking (and even joking) about how different things will feel around the house. This is about them, not you, and even though you’re half the reason they’ve made it this far, try not to steal the day. They’ll thank you eventually if they haven’t already, and a joyful and supportive attitude about their exciting road ahead will much better prepare them for their first weeks of college rather then holding on a little too tightly.
2. Limit Your Worrying when They’re Going to College
While it’s important to stay aware and connected with your child as they jumpstart their college journey, you’ve got to keep the worrying to a minimum. They didn’t make it this far by accident, and they’re probably much more capable of surviving than you give them credit for. Trust your parenting, and trust their hard work, too. Make it a priority to check in with them on a semi-regular basis. Take an interest in what they are doing and who they are spending time with, and do so with genuine excitement.
Encourage them to bring their friends along when they come home to visit, and plan a few weekends each semester to visit them and bring them some goodies. The only thing worse than overly-clingy parents are overly-distant parents, so show them you’re still supportive even though they’ve moved out. The more trust you can create between them and yourself, the less you will have to worry. After all, they are their own person. And if you’re not good with phone calls, stay in touch with texts, care packages, or apps like FamilyApp that make family communication easy.
3. Have Patience with Your College Student
Your child will make mistakes, it’s true. Maybe a few mistakes. College is hard (especially freshman year) and as a college student, there’s lots of room for error. Even so, the last thing you want to do is shame them for it. Make it clear that you won’t respond irrationally if your child confesses something hard with you. You want them to feel safe during this transition, not fearful of how you’ll respond to hardships or mistakes. You struggled through your share of mistakes in your day, too (and they’ll probably use that against you at some point). Utilize their mistakes as learning opportunities, and choose encouragement over coercion. Respond with patience, and avoid acting out of emotion. You want them to succeed! You expect great things from them, and they know that. Show them areas they can grow, and highlight their potential rather than their shortcomings.
4. Help Them Embrace Their Potential
That college acceptance letter had their name on it, so push your child to work hard for themselves and not for you. Remind them that hard work pays off. Avoid skewing your immediate desires with those of your child’s, because they probably have many different things to offer the world than you do. Yes, you created them, but they’re still their own person.
Walk with them as they explore their talents and interests, and let them pursue the paths that light their fires. Use what you’ve learned to provide the framework of what’s possible, but try not to limit your child’s potential. College provides first-hand exposure to pieces of the world that might have been inaccessible for your child beforehand, so let them know you’re willing to listen. It might not be exactly what you’re expecting to hear, but there’s a much bigger picture beyond even your own circles of experience. And above all, success comes in many different shapes and sizes. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.
Coping with your child going to college is a wild ride, so keep the tissues in the car and invite people you care about into the conversation.