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Four Ways Parents Can Ease the Transition to College

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Leaving for College

Having a daughter who was already an emotional basket case made the summer before college a stressful time in our house.

She had a new boyfriend whom she did not want to leave. She had never been away from home for an extended period of time. Packing was quite the disaster as she wanted to take every single item in her room to college and I kept telling her to pare it down. Tempers flared, her emotions were all over the place, and when the day finally came, the reality of the change weighed heavy on both our hearts.

Parents all over the country are bracing for this day. Have you prepared her to live independently and make the right choices? Does he have what he needs to survive the rigors of college life? Will she be able to stand against tremendous peer pressure when you aren’t there to help? Did he choose the right college and will he be happy?

How can you help your student transition to college and be happy in this next step?

1. Adjust your expectations.

When move-in day comes, parents have certain expectations. You expect your student to want and need your help. You expect your student to feel as you do - sad and introspective. You expect a long goodbye, hugs and tears. You expect to be missed immediately.

Set your expectations aside. Not all students who leave for college will react in this way. He may say goodbye the second you drop him off. He may want you to stay to help unpack, but leave once that is done. He may just say goodbye and walk away. You can help by letting him say goodbye in his own way. Whichever way he chooses, it’s what he needs to cope in the next few weeks and months.

2. Set communication rules.

Before your student leaves, set some ground rules. Discuss how often you want to talk, email or text. You may want to talk every day, but that’s not realistic. Your student will be busy settling in and getting accustomed to college life.

The worst thing you can do is hound your student with phone calls, emails and text messages. It will delay the transition and encourage homesickness. Allow some space to adjust and some time to make friends and establish a social life.

3. Settle the finances.

This may be the first time your student has had to budget living expenses. Some college students spend freely and then call home when the money runs out. College is a good time to learn the difference between “want” and “need.”

Those late-night pizza orders, snacks and weekend entertainment expenses add up. Before school starts, set up a budget, especially if you are providing the living expenses.

The worst thing you can do for your student is to be an easily accessible ATM. It’s imperative that you discuss the money and teach how to budget now.

4. Be a supporter, not a rescue ranger.

It’s important for your student to know you can be counted on in a pinch or stressful moment. Of course, you may not like what the problem is about. There will be difficult topics (peer pressure, underage drinking, hooking up, and even depression). But your student needs to know that no topic is beyond discussion and that you can be supportive without judgement or rejection.

The worst thing you can do is always go running to the rescue. Students need to learn to advocate for themselves and deal with the consequences of their actions. This overparenting has contributed to the rise in mental health and emotional issues among college students. It’s one thing to be available, it’s another to always swoop in to help. If you want your child to be well adjusted in college and move toward independent adulthood, be cautious about how you parent.

Saying goodbye is never easy. Your job as a parent is to help your child transition to college. An easy transition means a happier college student and an easier transition for you to the next step in your life.

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