Parenting Your College Freshman

    Expert advice on what to do after they leave.

    by Jeremy Weber

    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.

    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" approach—make 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 doing—but 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.

    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 answer—questions 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.