Having your child begin his or her university career can be a stressful experience for parents, especially if your son or daughter hasn't lived away from home before. During this important time of transition for the family, many parents put their own feelings and reactions on hold while helping their child prepare for university life. Attending to your own emotional needs, however, as well as your child's, will go a long way toward helping everyone feel comfortable with the challenges that going to college represents.
Read below to find some coping strategies and "food for thought" that might help you over the next few months.
Coping Strategies & "Food for Thought"
1. Recognize that feelings of ambivalence about your child's leaving home are normal.
For most families, this step can seem like a dramatic separation of parent and child, although it is usually the separation of adult from almost-adult. It is normal, too, to look forward to the relative peace and quiet of having your active older adolescent out of the house and having the place to yourself, or being able to spend time with your younger children!
2. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up.
There is little benefit in pretending that you don't feel sad, guilty, relieved, apprehensive, or whatever feelings you do have, while your child is getting ready to come to the University. You probably aren't fooling anyone by trying to hide your reactions; a healthier approach is to talk about them-with your family, friends, clergy, or whoever is a source of support for you.
3. Make "overall wellness" a goal for yourself.
Especially during stressful times, it helps to get enough sleep, eat healthful meals regularly, and get adequate exercise. Spending some recharging time-doing the special things that you especially like-is another step toward wellness. If you are feeling good, you are more likely to have the energy to help your child and be a good role model.
4. Remember that, for your child, coming to the University is a tremendously important developmental step toward full adulthood.
It represents the culmination of the teachings and learnings of 18 years or so-much of it geared toward helping your child assume a productive place in the world. This is the time when your hard work will show itself in the form of a framework that your freshman will use in beginning to make independent choices. Many parents find that it helps to focus on the fact that providing your child with this opportunity is a priceless gift. Be proud of yourself!
5. Find a new creative outlet for yourself.
Especially parents whose last or only child has moved away to college find that taking on a new challenge is an excellent way to manage and channel their energy and feelings. Have you ever wanted to write a book? Learn to fly-fish? Make a quilt? Volunteer in your community? Assume a new project or responsibility at work? Travel? 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!
What Can I Do to Help My Child from a Distance?
Of course, you are still a parent to your almost-adult, and he or she does still need your support and guidance during the college years. Here are some ways you can express your caring and enhance your child's experience at UT.
1. Stay in touch!
Even though your child is experimenting with independent choices, he or she still needs to know that you're there and are available to talk over both normal events and difficult issues. Make arrangements to write or call your child on a regular basis.
2. Allow space for your child to set the agenda for some of your conversations.
If he or she needs help or support, the subject is more likely to come up if you aren't inquiring pointedly about what time he or she came in last night!
3. Be realistic with your college student about financial matters.
Most students come to school with a fairly detailed plan about how tuition, fees, books, and room and board will be paid for, and what the family's expectations are about spending money. Being specific at the outset may help avoid misunderstandings later.
4. Be realistic as well about academic achievement and grades.
The University attracts bright students from all over the world, and not every freshman who excelled academically in high school will be an all-A student here. Developing or refining the capacity to work independently and consistently and to demonstrate mastery can be more important than 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 certainly it is appropriate to help your child set his or her own long-term goals.
5. If your child does experience difficulties at UT, encourage him or her to take advantage of the wealth of resources available for students.
For academic issues, talking with the professor, teaching assistant, or academic advisor is probably the first step, but the Learning Skills Center and Career Center are also both available to help. The Office of the Dean of Students can assist with a variety of concerns. If your son or daughter could benefit from counseling, the Counseling and Mental Health Center is located on campus and can be accessed by telephone 24 hours a day. UT is a big place, but you can help your child by reminding him or her of the many resources available on a large campus.
We hope these ideas and suggestions will be helpful to you in dealing with some of the difficulties parents experience when their child goes to college. The freshman year at UT is a tremendously exciting time, both for students and their families, and we hope and trust that you and your child will have a rewarding year!
The Staff of the Counseling and Mental Health Center
5th Floor, SSB 100A W. Dean Keeton St. Austin, Texas 78712-5731
Phone: 471-3515 Mon.-Fri. 8-5; 24-hour line: 471-CALL.