Supporting Your College Student: The First Year

Supporting Your College Student: The First Year

Now that your son/daughter is off to college, here are some ways to help you support (and survive) the beginning of the college years.

College campus1: Change—Even the Good Kind—Is Stressful

There are many great aspects of college life! The excitement and anticipation that your son or daughter felt when departing for college is an important part of the preparation. Along with all the positives of making that first leap into independence is the very real stress that occurs at the same time. Stressors can be: academic, social, relationship, family issues, anxiety, depression and health concerns (to name a few). All change involves stress–even good changes–so knowing how best to support your college freshman will be a key to minimizing any troublesome stress that may arise as the school year progresses.

2: Stay Connectedto a Point

Parents remain, for the time being, the main source of support for college freshmen, just as in the past—but now, from a distance. Consider yourself a vital part of your child’s support network, rather than the captain in charge. Try to stay connected: listening to your young adult’s emotional concerns with empathy and interest is still very much in your job description. It is common for parents and college students to both note that a “disconnect” has developed. College students want to be independent and not ask parents for help, while parents often struggle with how much help they should/can give from afar, without risking losing their son’s/daughter’s sense of autonomy.

Author Julie Lythcott-Haims explains in her book How to Raise an Adult1 that “…when parents have tended to do the stuff of life for kids—the waking up, the transporting, the reminding about deadlines and obligations, the bill-paying, the question-asking, the decision-making, the responsibility-taking…kids may be in for quite a shock when parents turn them loose in the world of college…this inability to cope—to sit with some discomfort, think about options, talk it through with someone, make a decision—can become a problem unto itself.”

3: It Takes a Village

Ups and downs are a normal part of freshman life, today as always. If your son/daughter doesn’t want to talk to YOU about their stress, then encourage them to talk to SOMEBODY. Virtually every college campus has counseling centers that offer free or extremely inexpensive sessions, with professionals who are familiar with exactly the types of problems and concerns that freshmen are facing. Additionally, the circle of support can include friends, other family members, professors, RA’s and roommates. All supportive relationships serve to strengthen and positively impact those early college experiences.

4: Teach Your College Student to “Fish”

As parents we are already quite familiar with problem-solving, but s/he will learn so much more if you try to simply listen supportively to your child’s emotional concerns, rather than stepping in and trying to “fix it.” This will enable your daughter/son to begin the process of exploring and experimenting with finding a good solution to problems that arise. Of course, it’s still important for parents to be patient and available. Visit the campus, if possible. Celebrate the small steps as your freshman starts to express some success in tackling their own problems, even if imperfectly. For example, a diminishing sense of homesickness or lessened time-management anxiety as they learn to organize themselves more effectively can be supported and noticed. This is, after all, part of the fun of watching your child move through college, graduate, and become an independent successful adult!

Houston, we have lift off!

1 ©2015, Lythcott-Haims, J. How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Henry Holt and Co.

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