- Talk to your child: Openly discuss any concerns and fears your student has before leaving for college. Talk about your student's thoughts and feelings regarding leaving the familiarity of school, friends, and routines. It is also important to express your expectations related to academic achievement, financial responsibility, safety precautions, and any other concerns with your student. It is important that you address your college student's concerns and invite questions. The key is for you to create an environment in which your child feels supported and listened to, and that you are available to talk at any time.
- Educate: Your student is likely to face increased social pressures in college, with less adult supervision. Talk to your student in advance about sex, drugs, and alcohol on campus, and explain the consequences of risk-taking behaviors. Discuss ways in which your college student can ensure his/her safety while fully experiencing college life. It is helpful for your student to hear your perspective and point of view.
- Make sure your student knows that help is always available. If your student has a specific need, investigate and inquire about available resources in the college campus' surrounding town or city. Specifically, if your college student requires services for a physical disability, learning disability, or psychological problem, plan ahead to ensure that necessary services are in place after your child moves to college. Make sure to include your college student in the decisions made regarding his/her treatment and special accommodations
- Be proactive. Create a safety plan with your college student for the rare case of an emergency. Help your student create a list of emergency contacts and nearby supports, including the university counseling service, campus security, and health services phone numbers. Identify family members or friends who live closer to the college campus as emergency contacts. Set up a financial and practical plan for your college student to be able to return home in case of an emergency. Planning ahead will give both you and your student a sense of security and control regarding the transition to college.
- Provide reassurance: Your student may be concerned about how the family will function in his or her absence. Assure your child that although he/she will be greatly missed, both you and other family members will be okay. Express excitement and support for your college student in this important life transition.
- Strike a healthy balance: Encourage self-reliance and independence in your college-aged child. However, remind your student that you are there if needed. Allow your college student to set and pursue his/her goals for college and the future. It is important that college students handle some important decisions on their own, such as choosing a major and social activities. Encourage your child to take responsibility for his/her every day living, including managing finances and meeting deadlines.
- Stay in touch: Check in via phone or e-mail, and send cards and care packages to let your child know that you are thinking of him/her. It is important to maintain a healthy balance of communication to allow your child a sense of independence. For example, set up a regular time to talk on the phone weekly, or to chat online. Make sure your student feels connected with the family by sharing events and activities at home.
- Keep your child in the loop. Even though your student may be living elsewhere, he/she needs to feel connected with his/her family. This will be especially important at times when your student is impacted by significant life events and during anniversaries and other important or meaningful occasions. Let your college-aged child know that he/she is still part of the family, and keep him/her informed and included in important family decisions, activities, and updates.
- Promote positive relationships: Encourage your student to develop friendships and build a support system outside the family by getting involved in school activities and campus life. Ask your college student about his/her social life and friends, and invite friends to your home on weekends or holidays. Close social relationships and supports are very important during the potentially stressful college years.
- Help is available: Remind your college student regularly that help is available if he/she is feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious. Point out that he/she can seek out help and support from family, friends, and professionals. Many college campuses hold mental health screening days regularly during the school year. Discuss these screenings and services through the on-campus counseling center with your college student.
Indicators of Difficulty with College Adjustment
No matter how far away students go to college, parents generally stay connected and want to ensure their children's well-being and safety. It is important that parents stay in touch with their college students and be aware of signs of difficulty adjusting to college life and of potential stressors related to this very important transition. Possible indicators of distress and difficulties with college are listed below:
1. An expressed need for help
2. Prolonged sadness or depressed mood
3. Tearfulness, crying, and frequent emotional outbursts
4. Excessive irritability, hostility, anger, or resentment
5. Loss of interest and pleasure in activities once enjoyed
6. Withdrawal from social interactions
7. Statements of loneliness
8. Difficulty developing a social network on campus
9. Loss of energy and fatigue
10. Agitation and restlessness
11. Changes in sleep patterns
12. Trouble concentrating or making decisions
13. Missing class often
14. Falling behind in schoolwork or failing classes
15. Substantial changes in appetite, eating patterns, or weight
16. Feeling of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
17. Risk taking behaviors, such as unprotected sex
18. Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
20. Thoughts or statements of death or suicide
Speak to your child if you see any significant changes in emotions, behaviors, or social activities. If you notice a number of the risk indicators in your college student, you and your child are encouraged to seek professional help. You can also encourage your college student to speak to university staff, residence hall staff, or the counseling center.