Congratulations! Your child is ready to leave the nest and is off to college or university. A clean, quiet house filled with date nights sounds good, right? It is. But the transition after high school can be a very confusing experience for both parents and students. After all, your child is starting to let go of the hand that has (literally) fed them for the past 17-18 years.
Despite the fact that they’ve taken the next step in their journey toward adulthood, first year students will need help navigating some unfamiliar (and often overwhelming) territory. To help you figure out how best to support your student as they make their next move, here is a list of things to keep in mind:
1. Be confident in your student’s ability.
Your child has benefitted from your years of coaching – be confident that they will figure things out. If they offer to do it, don’t step in. Your kids are getting older and are eager to try and forge their own way. Sure, they take a different path than you would, but the point is, they’re now learning by doing.
2. Encourage them to problem solve.
If they haven’t offered to tackle something, you need to be prepared for the hand-off of responsibility. From taking care of things like student registration and course selection to paying their own bills and budgeting for groceries, this is your student’s time to take the lead, so let them.
3. Make a financial plan.
Before your student takes off, sit down and discuss who is paying for what and how. Are they on a meal plan? If so, make sure they know what is covered – and what extras (think snacks, drinks, take-out, coffee etc.) remain unaccounted for? Create a mock-up of monthly costs and discuss the use of credit cards, shared bank accounts and credit lines. Get this out of the way now to avoid frustration later on.
4. Give them space.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder! Resist the urge to pick up the phone and leave voicemails or send lengthy texts every hour of every day. Your student will reach out and as time allows and you will soon fall into a groove via text, FaceTime, Skype, What’s App or other. Try to remember that if they don’t call, it’s likely because they’re off having fun, making friends or (hopefully) in class. A final word on parent-student communication. If they’ve let you onto their social media platforms, don’t abuse the privilege.
5. Stay connected.
What’s that? We just told you to give them space! Yes, that’s true. But don’t cut yourself off entirely from your child’s university experience. Given the financial, social and academic stressors that can arise during a student’s first year of university, it’s important to stay in the loop and on top of your child’s physical and mental health. Now’s the time to stop talking, and start listening.
If you sense your is struggling, encourage them to get the support they need. Many students will find it challenging to stay on top of homework and reading assignments. Listen to their frustrations, remind them to make good use of their teacher’s office hours, and offer support or share a strategy you’ve used to stay on top of things. If they’re struggling to adapt socially, encourage them to get involved in school groups and organizations around campus. After all, the best cure for homesickness is a busy schedule and a network of new friends to keep them focused on what lies ahead.
6. Keep expectations in check.
While it may be tempting to keep the bar set high as your child moves out from under your roof, be wary of imparting unrealistic expectations. Encourage your student to do the same. From success in the classroom to the management of financial, academic and social affairs – remain supportive and see what happens. They will likely surprise you.