CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) It’s almost time for the kids to go back to school and Dr. Tim Hope, Clinical Psychologist, gave us Tips for Kids Parents with Adolescents Preparing for College.
Tips for Parents:
Talk to your child. Openly discuss any concerns and fears your child has before leaving for college. Talk about your adolescent’s thoughts and feelings regarding leaving the comfort and 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 child.
Educate. Your adolescent is likely to face increased social pressures in college, with less adult supervision. Talk to your child 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 child to hear your perspective and point of view.
Provide reassurance. Your adolescent 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. Respond positively to your college bound student’s aspirations and expectations and, if applicable, share similar experiences from your college life.
Engage in open communication. 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. Show your child that you understand how he/she is feeling and he/she is being heard. For example, you can say: “I can see that you are nervous about leaving for school.”
Be proactive. Create a safety plan with your college student for the rare case of an emergency. Help your child 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 child a sense of security and control regarding the transition to college.
Make sure your child knows that help is always available. If your child 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.
Tips for College Students:
Strike a healthy balance. Encourage self-reliance and independence in your college-aged child. However, remind your child 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.
Use and model coping skills. It is also important for parents to model the use of effective coping skills during times of stress. Relaxation techniques include taking slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm and visualizing a safe and calm place, such as a sandy beach or pleasurable memory. In addition, encourage your child to engage in distracting activities, such as sports or hobbies, when feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
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, so as 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 child feels connected with the family by sharing events and activities at home.
Keep your child in the loop. Even though your child may be living elsewhere, he/she needs to feel connected with his/her family. This will be especially important at times when your child 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 activities, and updates.
Give your child options. Discuss with your college student how he/she will spend anniversaries, holidays, and other important dates. Give your child the option of spending these dates at home with you or maintaining his/her normal routine at school. It is important that your college student feels that he/she is able to make the choice.
Promote positive relationships. Encourage your child 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.
Encourage your children to give back. Children can feel a sense of empowerment, control, and accomplishment by participating actively in their community. Encourage your child to volunteer and help others.
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.