The transition to college can be exciting and stressful for families. Parents may be unsure what to expect for their student and what the transition means for their family. Remember that your son or daughter's transition to college is a transition for you as well!
The transition can be especially stressful if your son or daughter hasn't lived away from home before. During this important time for the family, many parents put their own feelings and reactions "on hold" while helping their child prepare for university life. However, attending to your own emotional needs will go a long way toward helping everyone feel comfortable with the challenges that college presents.
- Feelings of ambivalence, anxiety, and excitement are normal.
You may feel a variety of emotions as your son or daughter prepares to leave home for the first time. While ambivalence and anxiety are common during this period of transition, it is also normal to look forward to the relative peace and quiet of having your active older adolescent out of the house. You may be excited to have the place to yourself, or to have more time to spend with your spouse and/or younger children.
- University years mark important developmental steps.
It represents the culmination of 18 years or so of learning, much of which has been geared toward assuming a productive place in the world. This is the time when your hard work as a parent will show itself as your son or daughter begins to make independent choices. Many parents find that it helps to focus on the fact that providing their son or daughter with this opportunity is a priceless gift. Be proud of yourself!
Helping Your Student from a Distance
You are still a parent to your son or daughter, and she/he still needs your support and guidance during the college years. Here are some ways you can express your caring and enhance his or her experience at CU.
- Stay in Touch.
Even though your son or daughter is experimenting with independent choices, she/he still needs to know you're there and available to discuss both normal events and difficult issues. Make arrangements to write, e-mail or call on a regular basis. It may be helpful to have a conversation about how often she/he would like you to check in.
- Allow your son or daughter to set the agenda for some of your conversations.
If she/he needs help or support, the subject is more likely to come up if you aren't asking pointedly about what time she/he came in last night!
- Be realistic about financial matters.
Students should come to school with a fairly detailed plan about who will pay for tuition, fees, books and room and board, as well as the family's expectations are about spending money. Being specific from the start may prevent misunderstandings later. Don't forget about the costs of social activities, which are an important aspect of the college experience.
- Be realistic about academic achievement and grades.
The university attracts bright students from all over the world, and not every student who excelled academically in high school will be a straight A student at CU. Developing or refining the capacity to work independently and consistently can be as important as grades, as long as the student meets the basic academic requirements set out by the University. Again, these are choices that each individual student makes, though it is appropriate to help your child set his or her own long-term goals.
Resources for Students
If your son or daughter experiences difficulties at CU, encourage him or her to take advantage of the wealth of resources available to students:
For academic issues, it is important for the student to initially talk with their professor, teaching assistant, or academic advisor, but the Learning Center and Career Services are also available for help. In addition, the Student Development Department can assist with a variety of concerns. Any health concerns should be directed to the University Health Services. If your son or daughter could benefit from counseling, Counseling Services is located on campus and can be accessed by telephone: 616.977.5477. CU may seem like a big place, but you can help your son or daughter by reminding him or her of the many resources available here.
Helpful Coping Strategies for Parents
- Allow yourself to have emotions.
There is little benefit in pretending that you don't feel sad, guilty, relieved, apprehensive or worried about the transition to CU. A healthier approach is to discuss your feelings with your family, friends, pastor or whoever is a source of support for you. Talking with other parents of college-bound students can be particularly helpful.
- Make "overall wellness" a goal for yourself.
During stressful times, it helps to get enough sleep, eat healthy meals regularly and get adequate exercise. Spending time doing the things you like is another step toward wellness. If you are feeling good, you are more likely to have the energy to be a good role model for your son or daughter.
- Find a new creative outlet for yourself.
Many parents find that taking on a new challenge is an excellent way to manage and channel their energy and feelings. Have you ever wanted to travel? Volunteer in your community? Assume a new project or responsibility at work? Write a book? Learn to fly-fish? Make a quilt? Get your own bicycle and ride all over town? Make a list of all the things you intended to do while your child was growing up, but never had the time to do. Now is your chance!
- Be patient with the transition.
It is important to recognize that it will take some time to develop the right balance between your son or daughter's developing need for independence and their simultaneous need for support and guidance. Every student is different and has different needs, and these needs will almost certainly change over time. In addition, students don't always know how much independence they can handle or how much support they will actually need. Be patient and understand that it will likely take some time for everyone to adjust to the transition.