It's finally happened. You've unloaded the car, said your goodbyes, and now you're on the long, quiet drive home after dropping off your new college student at their dorm. Now what?
We asked student development experts from six Christian colleges for advice on what parents can do to help their child make a healthy transition to college life.
What should I do before my child leaves for college to ease the transition?
Mr. Patterson: Start to treat your son or daughter like they are ready to move on, and talk about the transition. Ask your child what you can do differently to make them feel better about preparing for college, and equip them with skills like how to write a check and do their laundry.
Ms. Gresham: During the summer before they leave, provide meaningful family times together. I've known some parents who've made a memory book of the high school years. More than anything, pray together as a family.
"New students still need guidance, but it is time for them to have some independence." Princess Fox
Ms. Fox: Let your son or daughter know that this is a transition and learning process for you, too. Showing that you will be OK with the transition will help your student feel better.
Dr. Voss: Take a "slow cooker" approachmake the preparation process last and linger. Don't procrastinate on buying and packing things so that you have a panicked surge at the end. Give your student time to process and mentally prepare for what is coming.
Once I've dropped my child off at college, what should I do in the next 24 hours?
Mr. Slosted: Allow your student to be on their own. Make yourself available if they need something, but let them initiate the contact.
Ms. Fox: Give them space, but realize you don't have to completely leave them alone. If you'd like to, it's fine to call to see how your student is doingbut only once at the most. The conversation itself is more important than its content, because it provides students with a still-familiar thing in their lives.
Dr. Voss: Pray for your child, and also pray for peace for yourself. Recognize that this transition is often more difficult for parents. As soon as you left campus, your child started on a wonderful adventure.
How much autonomy or space should I give my child?
Mr. Slosted: Have a conversation about how much both of you want or need to talk. Explain that you will miss them and ask how often they would like to hear from you. Discuss and negotiate your needs beforehand. This creates shared expectations instead of unspoken ones.
Ms. Gresham: Give them leeway in structuring their new life. Refrain from trying to organize their dorm room, including which drawer to put their socks in.
"If your son or daughter calls and is homesick, listen, love, be a cheerleader and encourage them. Then, send cookies!" Todd Voss
Ms. Fox: New students still need guidance, but it is time for them to have some independence, too. They can't do everything on their own yet and need help to make some choices. How often you talk now all depends on your relationship before they went to college. The frequency of your calls doesn't change how much space you give. Maybe it's not out of the ordinary for you to talk with your child twice a week. What determines how much space they have is what happens in your conversations. Take an active role in learning about your student's life without smothering them. Ask general, open-ended questions that are non-threatening to answerquestions as simple as "How was your day?" and "How are you doing?" Open questions leave an open door for students, and once they get comfortable they will take you into the different areas of their life.
How often should I visit my student? What should I do when I visit?
Dr. Austin: I recommend visiting two or three times a year, for Parents' Weekend or other big events. If you visit every weekend, you are not showing confidence in your student.
Mr. Patterson: When you visit, ask to see the campus and where their classes are, and have them introduce you to their roommate, friends and professors. Ask your son or daughter what they want to do. Don't walk into their room and start rearranging things and comment that their room is a pit. Treat them like an adult.
Ms. Gresham: Visiting at least once is so important to you and your student. Take them out to dinner, take them shopping and take their friends out to dinner. When you've seen their new life and met their friends and professors personally, you can pray more effectively.
What should I do if my child becomes homesick?
Ms. Gresham: Students will go through phases. In the first phase, college feels like camp, then reality hitsthey realize they can't eat Mom's home cooking every day and the laundry has run out. Send quarters and food and tell them to pray and hang in there. Your student will make it with your support and the support of campus resources.
Dr. Voss: If your son or daughter calls and is homesick, listen, love, be a cheerleader and encourage them. Then when you hang up, send cookies! But resist the urge to rescue your child by intervening with profs or roommatesor by picking them up for a visit home every weekend. Homesickness is a normal and natural response for many, and the process of learning to deal with it is important in the development of independence.
Dr. Austin: If your son or daughter is at the point of wanting to leave, show that you are committed to college being a valuable experience for them and set a time frame. For example, suggest that they give the experience another month (or a full semester or year). In my experience, as time passes most homesick students will have made new friendships and connected with life on the campus by that time.
What should I do if my child is stressed by classes or grades?
Dr. Austin: Most students who have done well in high school expect to do the same in college, but studies indicate a drop in performance often exists, especially in the first semester. Understand that this is a natural and common occurrence as students adjust to the greater rigors of college and independent life. Don't make a big issue of grades at the start of a student's college experience, unless they're completely blowing them off.
Dr. Voss: Encourage your son or daughter to use the resources available to them, and not to procrastinate. Have them talk with the professor or find a tutor. Give them the responsibility to fix their problems.
What can I do to bring God into this transition for my student?
Mr. Patterson: Ask your child questions about what they discuss in their religion classes, and start adult conversations about their faith journey. They've accepted your faith until now, and they're going to reevaluate it and form their own faith. The biggest help you can offer is not to overreact if they have some new ideas. But I wouldn't roll over and play dead eitherask them how they feel about their faith and why they feel that way.
Ms. Fox: Pray. Continue sharing what God is doing in your life and how he is helping you in the transition. Show that you are still strong in faith.
Dr. Voss: Parents can point to God in every problem they face. In doing so, you can share about similar events and challenges that you've experienced. This process lets us connect as adults with our collegian. A new level of honesty about your reliance on God allows your child a chance to fail and succeed on the road to social and spiritual maturity.