Ask: How to prepare for the transition to college?

Posted by Susan Orenstein on June 11, 2013 

Susan Orenstein is a psychologist with Orenstein Solutions in Cary.

Q: My child is graduating high school next week and I’m starting to feel like I’m on a rollercoaster, with emotions that include excitement, pride and relief as well as stress and sheer terror. My baby is almost grown and I’m afraid of “losing him” as he grows up and leaves home. What can I do to keep our relationship strong over the next few years while also keeping my sanity?

A: You are asking some very important questions as you’re recognizing that your role will be shifting. As your almost-grown child develops a stronger sense of identity and independence over the next four years, your parenting role will change, but you will definitely remain a key figure in your child’s life. Maintaining a strong parent-child relationship is essential to your son or daughter's confidence and success.

Over the next few years, you will lose your position as your child's chauffeur, housekeeper, cook, executive secretary, tutor, supervisor and probation officer. However, your child may rehire you as chief confidant, counselor, coach and cheerleader. Here are some strategies to help you, as a parent, prepare for your new role.

DON’T:
Interrupt, give unsolicited advice or try to take control of your child’s problems.

DO:
LISTEN! Everyone likes receiving another’s undivided attention. Your children will appreciate a safe place to air their thoughts, feelings, dreams and concerns. Attentive listening is one of the best gifts a parent can give a child. Your children will feel empowered to solve their own problems once they are able to talk things through.

DON’T:
Minimize their feelings through invalidating statements such as “College is supposed to be the best time of your life” or “I wasn't as fortunate as you when I was your age.”

DO:
ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR FEELINGS. Young adults’ feelings can be intense and may change rapidly, but they are still real.

DON’T: 
Share any lack of confidence you may have in your child or review his/her past failures.

DO:
FOCUS ON THEIR STRENGTHS. Remind your child of his or her positive qualities and coping skills during the hard times.

Also notice (aloud) when your child is working hard, handling a tough situation maturely or developing any other positive character traits. He or she will appreciate this acknowledgement.

DON’T:
Hide your love and affection for your child.

DO:
PROVIDE TOKENS OF YOUR AFFECTION. Give genuine compliments and expressions of support and concern. Find little ways to show your affection for your child. College students love receiving letters, email and care packages.

DON’T:
Don’t let your child's suffering go unnoticed by ignoring, minimizing or invalidating his suffering.

DO:
KNOW WHEN TO STEP IN. Express the concerns you have about their behavior, their mood or their relationships in nonjudgmental terms. Listen to their responses and ask how you can be helpful.

RED FLAG!: If you believe your child is at risk of being harmed or will hurt himself or herself, contact the appropriate school resources, such as the resident counselor, campus police, university counseling center or dean of student life.

DON’T:
Hide family crises such as divorce or family illness from your child or spring bad news upon her when she returns home on breaks.

DO:
HAVE A CARING CONVERSATION EARLY ON. Give your child advance notice to prepare for a change in the family’s lifestyle. Choose a time when he or she will be receptive to hearing difficult news (not the night before finals!) and then share the information in a sensitive manner. Encourage your son or daughter to express thoughts and feelings about the news and acknowledge your child’s right to those feelings.

DON’T:
Pin all your expectations and dreams on your child’s achievements and happiness.

DO:
“GET A LIFE!” Enjoy your newfound freedom by nurturing yourself, exploring your interests and developing your relationships.


Susan Orenstein is a psychologist specializing in family relationships at Orenstein Solutions in Cary.  She has created a resource to help prepare students and their families for this important transition. To learn more about College Companion: Your Ultimate Guide to College Life, visit orensteinsolutions.com/our-storeContact Orenstein Solutions at (919) 428-2766, ext. 0, or visit www.orensteinsolutions.com.


 

 

 

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