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Sending Off a College Freshman? The Art of Letting Go


Throngs of parents are saying goodbye to their teenagers this month as their children prepare to transition to freshman year at college. In most instances, the students are eager to spread their wings and flex their newly-independent muscles. But for parents, many need help learning how to let go.

“Parents go through their own transition when they send their kids off to college,” explains E. Christine Moll, PhD, professor of counseling and human services at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. “For them, it’s often a struggle to find that healthy balance between concern for and coddling of their college students.”

To help parents find that balance, Moll offers some sound advice:

Let your student make mistakes – maybe even fail.

“They’re going to experience challenges and setbacks but better they make these mistakes in college where safety-nets are in place, rather than later in life when the consequences are more severe,” explains Moll. “The important thing is that they walk away having learned conflict resolution, compromise and problem solving, and how to use the experience to become stronger and more steadfast.”

Don’t play “20 Questions” with your kid

“Shy away from asking your student specific questions about their grades, homework or deadlines for projects,” says Moll. “Instead, ask a few open-ended questions that invite conversation. For example, ‘What are you reading in English class?’ or ‘How are things going with your roommate?’ The key is to show you’re interested but not involved.”

Help your student help himself

“Parents should feel confident that they don’t need to advocate for their sons or daughters as much as they maybe had to in high school because college’s have built-in support services,” says Moll. “So if a student needs help with tutoring, financial aid or residence life, suggest he seek assistance from one of the appropriate resources on campus.” Moll continues, “One of the best tools available to parents is the college’s website, which gives them access to all kinds of information relevant to the institution’s various support services.”

Don’t call in the cavalry just yet

“Most parents instinctively want to call in the cavalry when their sons or daughters call, panicking about a problem, but moms and dads should not feel compelled to respond right away,” says Moll. “Listen to what the problem is. Then, suggest that everyone sleep on it for a day or two. Usually by the time you revisit the issue, the student figures out how to resolve it on his own – or it’s resolved itself.”

The same but different

Moll concludes, “Relinquishing parental control can be difficult, particularly after 18 years of jurisdiction. But the loss of parental control doesn’t mean the loss of influence. Your children still need you when they go off to college, just in different ways.”

SOURCE: Canisisus College


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