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Prepare Your Child for College: 5 Positive Pointers
One year ago, my husband and I were in countdown mode as we prepared to send our oldest child off to college for the first time. As the parent of a student, I’ve been asked by multiple people what that transition was like and what advice I would give to a parent facing a similar send off. My list is not exhaustive, but I hope something I’ve gained can be of help for those on the brink of the adventure of parenting college students.
Help Your Child Move Towards Autonomy
As your student moves through their last few months at home, do all you can to embrace their growing need for independence. In our home, we lifted our daughter’s curfew for her last months and simply asked her to let us know where she’d be and when she’d be back. Throughout her last year at home, we allowed more financial weight to fall on her shoulders so she wouldn’t be caught off guard by those responsibilities when she was on her own.
If your child hasn’t learned how to handle basic life maintenance such as changing a tire, making their own dentist appointment, depositing a paycheck, cooking a meal, or doing their own laundry, take time to impart these skills now while they’re still under your roof. Your child may seem resistant, but they’ll appreciate it later! Do what you can to practice letting go now so you don’t have to do it “cold turkey” when they move out for college. This involves allowing your student to make their own decisions about their career direction, major and classes. In this season of life, we as parents move from a coaching role to a consultant role.
Keep advice to your child who is going away to college to a minimal and give it only when totally necessary or when your student asks you. This will help to bridge a healthy relationship going forward, as your student feels that you respect them as the adult they’re becoming.
Parenting College Students: Expect and Accept Emotion
Parents and students alike may be caught off guard by the wide range of emotions that pop up unexpectedly over the last weeks and months before the transition to college. This is normal! Don’t be surprised if odd things trigger emotion—both before and after your student leaves home. For the first few weeks after our daughter left, my husband and I would find ourselves in tears over a random sock she’d left behind, seeing her baby picture on the wall, or setting the table with one less plate for a family dinner.
As with all forms of grief, it’s helpful to acknowledge how you feel and let yourself fully experience whatever emotions come to the surface, but I found this was best done in private moments with my spouse, a trusted friend, and most of all God. I had to fight the urge to make my daughter’s transition to college about me. Yes, there is grief—as well as pride and excitement—over that milestone.
But it’s the child’s journey and they need our support and encouragement more than our bucket load of tears. Recognize too, that students and parents are not the only ones experiencing all sorts of emotions; siblings and extended family are feeling all the feels, as well! It’s important to be mindful of what a huge change it is when one family member leaves home. Rest assured however, that eventually things will stabilize, and you’ll move to a “new normal.”
Parents and Students: Discuss Expectations
As your students’ departure date gets closer, talk about what you expect the first semester apart to look like, especially when it comes to staying in touch. Will you text each other daily? Weekly? Will you aim for regular phone conversations or Facetime appointments? You may be surprised by the independence your child is hoping to exert—or the strong need they feel to remain connected.
Do your best to listen to their heart in this area and respect their wishes for freedom–or reassure them of your availability if they are feeling nervous about the separation. Recognize that personalities are different and emotional needs ebb and flow. Try not compare your student to yourself—or to your friend’s child. Your child’s need for lots of comforting support—or tons of space to fly—is not an indicator or your success or failure as a parent; it’s simply where they’re at and what they need from you at this space in time.
College Preparation for Parents: Look for Ways to Connect
In the last weeks before our daughter left for college, we took time to make special memories with her—both one-on-one and as a family—and were so glad we did! The college send-off can be stressful and is often fraught with a myriad of emotions, as was already discussed, but it’s important to celebrate it and make it as enjoyable as possible for everyone.
Make a bucket list for the last month before the big “launch” and do a couple of memorable things together—whether a fun day trip or outing, a fancy meal out, or a shopping trip to pick out necessities for your student’s new dorm room. If you’re able to help your child move onto their new campus, consider adding a couple of days to your trip and do some sight-seeing or recreating along the way.
Blessing Your Child Before College
Your child needs to hear how much you love them and how proud you are of them. As they head out of your home into the big wide world, think of ways you can intentionally bless them. What are the encouraging words you want to speak over them? What Scriptures do you pray over their life and want them to hold onto? Consider expressing your heart in a letter or set aside a little time for family prayer and worship before your student heads out the door.
You may want to give your student a meaningful gift as they leave home, such as a new Bible or unique journal. Send them off in a way that leaves nothing important left unsaid; let them know that while they’ll now be out of your home, they will never be out of your heart.
As always, if you are looking for scholarship or Christian college resources for your students, you can find them at: Christianconnector.com.