College is a time of transition for students and their parents. There is no way to move through such a transition without feeling some sense of excitement and loss. The excitement is easy to handle. The sense of loss or dislocation is less so.
Your student will probably seem different after he or she has been in college for awhile, even after just for a few weeks. You may see changes in:
Remember that in the first months of college students also face a myriad of social challenges which they must solve by:
The key is to be prepared for these changes. It is easy to make snap judgments on the quality or character of the differences, but try to refrain from doing so. They are likely to change again in the next month. Try to appreciate that your student's view of the world is expanding and s/he is building an identity through his or her own process of trial and error.
The following are some ideas for dealing with the sense of loss, and successfully “letting go” as your student goes to college.
Build an adult relationship with your student with phone calls, e-mails, letters, and care packages. Let the student control the timing of these interactions to help maintain that sense of freedom. See “Staying Connected” below for more ideas.
Focus on the things you enjoyed doing before your student began college. If you enjoyed an activity for its own sake and not because of some connection to your child, continue it.
Don't feel guilty if you adjust to your student being in college before other parents do. Everyone is different. Each parent will make the adjustment in his or her own time.
Work to keep your emotions under wrap. If you burst into tears every time you speak to your student, he or she may either feel even worse about being in school than s/he already does, and /or stop talking to you altogether!
Try not to focus conversations on problems or uncertainties that you're facing in your life. Help your student focus on new goals or activities in his or her life.
Try to limit any other major changes in your life for now. Sending a student to college is enough of a shock. Changing jobs or moving to a new house could send everyone over the edge!
Don't try and fill your life with new commitments to fill the void left by your child going to college. Focus on yourself for awhile or other members of your family.
If you have other children still at home, here are some other points to keep in mind:
Keep your sense of loss or grief under wraps. If your other children see that you're very upset, they may get the feeling that you value the college student more than you do them.
Don't try and turn one of the remaining siblings into a mirror image of the one who's gone to college. Both children will resent it.
Remember that this is a time of transition for both you and your student. Keep the lines of communication open!
How can you "let go" of your student without cutting off your love and support? It's not as hard as you might think. In general, students simply like to communicate with their loved ones at home on their own terms, at their own times. This is the most important thing to keep in mind.
Here are some ways that you can stay connected without infringing on your student's new-found freedom:
Provide your student with a pre-paid phone card that he or she can use at any time. It's a gentle way of reminding your child to stay in touch. Some parents establish an agreement with their student that they will pay for a cell phone if the student agrees to call home with a certain frequency, but when the student wants to.
Communicate via e-mail. It's inexpensive and enables the student to communicate with you as his or her schedule allows.
Write letters. Students really look forward to the mail delivery every day, even though they don't always have the time to write or call in response. Don't take it personally.
The ISU office of Student Affairs has a web site with further information for parents (http://indstate.edu/studentaffairs/parents.htm). It contains important information about what's happening at the school and tips for parenting a college student.
Send small care packages with items such as food treats, quarters for doing laundry, flowers, and local news clippings.
Make every effort to visit your student during Family Day. For 2005, Family Day is Saturday September 24th. Don't plan to spend every minute of the day with your student. Let him or her set the tone for how the weekend is spent.
Allow yourself to be a "shoulder to cry on." College can be stressful and frustrating for many students. When your student calls or writes, just take in the information and don't be judgmental. Often, the student isn't asking for a solution to the problem, he or she just wants to let out some feelings.
If your main form of communication is the telephone, here are some ideas for getting the most out of your conversations:
Make a list of items you want to discuss with your student. Keep it near the phone so that when s/he calls, you can cover any important topics.
Begin your calls with positive news, information that's not controversial. Don't put a damper on the conversation by immediately bringing up bad news.
Share news about yourself and life at home, but don't go on and on about people your student doesn't know or like.
Let your student determine the length of your talk. S/He may need to study or go to class. Controlling the amount of conversation is also another way your child can exercise his or her freedom. If you need more time, ask to schedule some uninterrupted time to talk.
Don't ask a question if you really don't want to hear the answer. If you respond in a judgmental fashion to something your child tells you, it will limit how much he or she shares with you in the future.
For more information, pick up a copy of “Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years” by Karen Coburn and Madge Treeger.
Adapted from a publication from the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office (http://www.mheso.state.mn.us/)
A lot of students talk about being stressed-out and many, when asked what they do to relax have difficulty coming up with a response. Relaxing is easy to fit into your busy schedule, and can be accomplished in a number of ways. Some people like to read, some to exercise, others to hang out with friends. Others relax using alcohol, nicotine, or other drugs, but these are less healthy ways of doing so and can lead to other problems, which just make you more stressed.
Simply put, relaxation is a reduction in body tension. You may feel you have tightness in your shoulders, neck or back, for example. One common method used to relax is to focus on your breathing. You will likely find that as your body relaxes, your breathing becomes easier, though you didn’t notice it was difficult before. Relaxation can also be a reduction in emotional tension. By focusing on an enjoyed activity, we reduce the time and energy we spend thinking about, or worrying about, those stressful parts of our lives. If you are one of those who has difficulty figuring out what to do to relax, learning a relaxation exercise can be a quick, simple and effective way to reduce your stress and tension. Below are links to two audio files of guided relaxation. They are available for you to download free, and can be copied to a CD, or listened to on an mp3 player.
Tips for relaxation exercises:
Audio relaxation files are provided with permission, courtesy of the Hobart and William Smith Colleges Counseling Center (www.hws.edu/studentlife/resources/counseling):
For Progressive Relaxation Exercise and Combination Relaxation Exercise: