5 Tips for Parents with Kids Transitioning from High School to College

5 tips for parents with kids transitioning from high school to college.

kids transitioning

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Parents sending their kids to college is almost as monumental of a transition as it is for the student. Many topics concern you, from worrying if your child will make the best decisions or even staying in touch. You can easily wade through this life change by setting precedents to perpetuate honesty and care with your children.

Empathize and share

You must remember your kids are as nervous as you are about starting college. The best way to reduce that anxiety for both parties is to empathize. If you went to college or have a loved one that did, share the stories. Children may not want to have their parents give a personal history lesson before moving in, so make the discussion practical with an optimistic point of view.

Tell college stories inside and outside the classroom. Explain the mistakes you learned from in a way that lets your kids know it’s OK and that you have a non-judgemental mindset. Show them there are more learning opportunities outside the classroom to grow into adulthood and learn to be part of a community.

Sharing genuine portrayals of college will humanize you to your children, who may have difficulty imagining their parents in a university setting. It also alerts them that, while education is the main reason they attend school, it’s not everything. Most importantly, recalling these stories is a way to ground parents. Some fears and trust issues can dissolve if they rationalize the college experience by remembering how they navigated through uncertainty and new environments.

Encourage experimentation

College exposes students to more opportunities to grow than any other. They meet new people from different backgrounds and points of view. They can also join clubs and organizations that expand their view of the world. Your kids have to learn how to balance studying and time management with socializing. Parents can reduce concerns over all this juggling if they facilitate experimentation.

Your children will appreciate this freedom and trust. It also reminds you to trust how you raised them and keep communication lines open if they don’t feel shame or fear around trying new things, such as:

  • Discovering new career or internship opportunities or changing majors
  • Joining clubs that expand on their current interests or let them try new things
  • Attending local events in their community they don’t have access to at home
  • Meeting new people, traveling, and having novel experiences with them

The experimentation mindset forces parents and students to practice self-reflection. How does each party feel about these life changes? Why do they have these emotional responses or cultural assumptions about how their student participates in the college community?

Manage communication expectations

You probably gathered that everything circles back to healthy communication. However, you must manage your expectations. Students vary in how much they rely on staying in touch with home, depending on how busy they are, if they’re homesick, or if it’s just not their personality. You probably won’t talk to your child as much as you feel the urge to and that’s fine.

It’s vital not to smother your kids by helicoptering. Parents want to avoid their children accusing them of micromanaging or having poor boundaries when they want to experience college life or need to pay attention to their coursework. If you unintentionally make every conversation a lecture, it will push your child away — they don’t want lessons from their parents when they can get that in a lecture hall. 

If you set up a healthy relationship with your student before they go to school, they will reach out in times of distress or to let you know they miss you.

Remember the student’s “why”

Every student goes to college for different reasons. They will vary based on financial obligations to the school, but parents should support their student’s journey. Some children want to attend college just to learn, without expecting a job. Parents should be thrilled if they can handle the financial burden or earn scholarships to support their passion. If they want to go to school to network and experience people, nudge that “why” by reminding them of how to balance this priority and schoolwork meaningfully.

Prepare for change

College is emotionally, physically, and mentally erratic for students and parents. You can cope with the transition by standing stable, grounded, and patient while these changes run their course. Students will experience changes in the following ways:

  • Romantic, professional, and platonic relationships
  • Physical health, including diet and physical activity
  • Mental health, including mood swings, stress, and anxiety
  • Professional choices, like major concentrations
  • Priorities, like putting social life over sleep hygiene
  • Political, ideological, and philosophical beliefs

Don’t overthink these volatile changes because it happens to most students. If you’re concerned about a change that seems drastic or damaging to your kid’s well-being, kindly open that discourse with them or a professional if necessary. If parents assert they are there for their children no matter what, they will be authentic and regularly relay changes in their life.

Easing into college life for parents and students

Parents and students have countless adjustments to make when transitioning to college. While everything revolves around quality communication and honesty, you can make the change feel better with enthusiasm. Excite your child with the possibilities college can offer. College is as messy as it is illuminating, but parents have strategies to stay realistic while giving their child freedom.

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