You’ve had other experiences separating from your child — at kindergarten, camp, or sending him off to visit a relative or ex-spouse alone for the first time. But leaving home for college may be one of the most emotional moments for any parent yet — filled with excitement and anticipation, and an acute sense of loss.
Here are some tips that may help you stay connected to your child at college:
1. KISS THEM GOOD-BYE. Most parents describe the days leading up to their child’s departure as intensely emotional. Whether you are tearing up occasionally, planning a final family dinner, or the siblings are arguing over which Wii games stay home or go, you should be careful not to assume that your child or other family members are feeling the same way. Laura Kastner and Jennifer Wyatt, authors of The Launching Years, say, “A useful guideline is to avoid the extremes: during a child’s final days at home parents should, for example, resist possessiveness, refrain from guilt-tripping their child into something they don’t want to do, and avoid generating a drawn-out emotive display. Take a deep breath, hug it out, and let them go.
2. MANAGE EXPECTATIONS. According to a recent survey, college kids today are in contact with home by cell phone or email an average of 10 times a week. Barbara K. Hofer, professor of psychology at Middlebury College and co-author, with Abby Sullivan Moore, of The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up (Free Press, 2010), advises laying the groundwork before your kid leaves for college. She says, “Have a conversation about how often you want to talk, how you want to communicate, and when this is best for both of you.”
3. TIMING. The big question remains — how often do you talk? Every day? Once a week? When the spirit moves you? Experimenting might be the best way to go. Ask your child what might be a good time to check in. More isn’t necessarily better. Professor Hofer found that those kids “who are in the highest frequency of communication and whose parents are continuing to regulate their behavior and academics are the least autonomous and least satisfied with the college experience and their relationship with parents.” College is their venue for entering adulthood, and you cannot, nor should you, micromanage their experience.
4. SELECT THE TECH THAT FITS YOU BEST. Sorting out the best methods of communication with your student can be confusing. You may be used to calling their cell phone and leaving a message or simply texting a short “call me.” Instant messaging is available on Google, Facebook, and AIM; which one does your child use most? Parents of students studying overseas swear by Skype, which allows you to see and hear your child via webcams. There’s no charge and it works anywhere. You need to figure out which option fits your family the best.
5. VISIT. If you are not too far away, a great way to stay in touch is by visiting in person. You will earn lots of brownie points for showing up. If your child is playing sports try to make as many games as you can. If they are performing in concerts or shows, plan to attend.
6. SEND PRESENTS. Just like when you left “secret messages” in her lunch box in elementary school, college students love cards, gifts, and “care packages” from home. You can send home-baked cookies, rolls of quarters, photos of the family pet, or a commercial birthday bash kit. These small efforts will reassure your child that he is still connected to home and to you, and that staying in touch is important.
7. REACH OUT. Try to get to know your child’s new roommates and friends by more than name. If you live close by, invite them to your house for a holiday, especially if they live too far away to travel home. Most of all, listen carefully to your child and acknowledge their new expertise, passion, and know-how. You are not just staying connected to the child you raised, but getting to know the adult they are becoming.
Parents – how do you stay in touch with your child who is away at college? Comment & share below!
Read Student Advisor’s Parents’ Survival Guide for more tips from Beth on how to stay connected to your child in college.
Beth Fredericks holds a BA in Education and an M.Ed in Early Childhood Development, and is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, and Tufts University. She is a parenting educator, community builder, and advocate for children and families.