Sending your child to college

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How to maintain the fine line between independence and over-parenting

As a parent, there are few times in life quite as emotional as sending your child to college. In addition to feeling sentimental about the fleeting moments you have left together, you’re likely worried about whether or not he or she is prepared for this next transition – or better yet, if you are. The good news is that you’re not alone. Most parents struggle to navigate this challenging time in a way that sets their child up for success while still maintaining a reasonable level of parental oversight.

My wife and I sent two children to college, and while it definitely came with some ups and downs, we survived – and you will, too. There are, however, a few things you can do to help ensure a smoother ride for everyone.

Life Skills: All kids should be equipped with some basic life skills when they enter college. If you feel like you’ve missed the boat on these, there’s still time. Here’s what to focus on right away:

  • Laundry – Your child’s dorm will not come with a maid. Before he or she flies the coop, it’s time for a crash course in Laundry 101.
  • Banking – No matter who’s paying for your child’s education and expenses, all college students should understand how to manage money. If you haven’t already done so, set up a bank account for your child and explain how to maintain it. Develop a system of accountability regarding spending, and maybe even encourage your child to take on a part-time job.
  • Cooking and cleaning – If your student doesn’t plan to eat every meal in the cafeteria, it’s time to learn how to prepare at least a couple of easy recipes. Likewise, if your child is living in a suite-style dorm, he or she will need some tools for cleaning the bathroom.
  • Car maintenance – If your child will have a car on campus, be sure to review the basics, including changing the oil and fluids and buying gas.

Communication: While your son or daughter may not currently be interested in your opinion, that could change in a new environment. When he or she reaches out, resist the urge to provide a solution. Instead, exercise your new role as a listener and a sounding board. You may want to agree on a communication schedule ahead of time. Perhaps you can chat or Facetime once a week. If your child attends school close to home, be sure to respect the boundaries. Despite how lonely you may be, your child needs space to develop friendships and experience independence.

Resourcefulness: A major complaint among employers of recent grads is their inability to problem solve. In a society where helicopter parenting is the norm, many children lack the ability to be resourceful. When a problem arises, resist the temptation to solve it for your child. Instead, point out the many resources at his or her disposal. Today, colleges provide students with an abundance of amenities, from medical clinics to tutoring centers and counseling services.

Self Care: For the child who is used to mom and dad taking care of most things, college life can be a bit of a shock. In the beginning, you may need to do a little handholding. Unlike high school, which maintains a fairly rigid schedule, college life offers freedoms that most kids are not accustomed to. Talk with your son or daughter about time management and scheduling, especially when it comes to studying, exercise, leisure and sleep. You should also have a frank discussion about safety and responsible alcohol use. Girls, in particular, should know how to protect themselves from date-rape situations and should be well versed on the campus transportation offerings. Not sure how to talk with your child about this sensitive subject? Here’s a great resource.

Although this new transition may be tough, try to focus on the positives. Be proud of your parenting efforts and continue to support, love and listen to your child during this next phase of life.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.