Sending your student off to college is a crucial transition for a family. While it is an exciting and sometimes scary period for your student, it can also be a time of challenges for the family members left behind. This guide addresses questions asked by the families of St. Scholastica students:
•· What if my student has special needs?
The primary task for a student leaving for college and leaving family is one of separation. Separation does not mean "goodbye, good luck, and call if you need me." The process for the student is one of moving toward independence, developing new skills, making mistakes, taking increased responsibility, and developing a more adult, mature relationship with family members. The family's role is to give their student the opportunity to search academically, personally, and professionally.
This time of transition is about your student having the freedom to make decisions, take responsibility for those decisions and deal with the challenges that may result. Some specific transitional issues include:
•· Being away from friends and family and developing new relationships without familiar support systems.
•· Living in close quarters with other students and negotiating issues or conflicts that arise.
•· Managing time when there is much less external structure imposed.
•· Coping with an increased amount of academic demands and competition.
•· Determining the amount of study necessary to be successful academically.
•· Managing money.
•· Handling the many decisions required on a daily basis.
•· Integrating new ideas, people and cultures.
•· Developing an increased awareness of life's possibilities with decreased influence from family.
•· Negotiating a new relationship with family.
You hear the words "letting go" associated with the role of the parent. What does this mean, and how do you know if you are doing it in a helpful way?
•· Encourage your student to stay on campus on the weekends rather than come home.
•· Allow your student to make decisions and live with the consequences.
•· Help your student learn to negotiate the issues without stepping in to fix the problem.
•· Recommend your student get help when needed.
•· Listen without fixing.
•· Support exploration rather than sticking with the familiar.
•· Treat your student like an emerging adult.
Every family's situation is unique, with individual circumstances. The ideas above are guidelines and not rules. They are meant for discussion among family members.
While it's an exciting time, the summer before a student enters college can also be a time of stress and tension in the family. It is a time of change.
You can help prepare your student for increased independence:
•· Expect increased chaos as your child exerts the need for independence. While parents may push for increased intimacy and connection before their student leaves for college, the student may want increased autonomy and distance from the family.
•· Help your student organize the paperwork sent from the College, as well as information that will be needed while in college. Help develop a record management system, including files for student housing, finances, health insurance, academic information, and automobile records. It's critical that you support and even prod your student in this process. But do not do it yourself.
•· Get a daily planner and/or calendar before the beginning of summer. Help your student identify critical dates and deadlines.
•· Have your student learn to wake up for work or school without your help.
•· Show your student how to do laundry if you have been doing it.
•· Teach your student how to change a tire on a car.
•· Help your student learn to balance a checkbook.
Most college students are in a period of limbo. Your student have some of the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, some of the knowledge to make important decisions about life, and the freedom to make those decisions. Most students remain financially dependent on family, are still in the process of maturing, and have the watchful eyes of family, friends and the College on them.
While you will always be the parent to your child, the nature of the relationship matures, and takes on different roles and responsibilities. The best way to describe the role of a parent to college child is one of mentor.
Some characteristics of a mentor include:
•· Listening and accepting different points of view.
•· Gently challenging when it is necessary for changes in your student's behavior.
•· Respecting your student's struggles and empathizing without feeling pity.
•· Looking for solutions and opportunities as well as barriers.
•· Staying flexible and open.
•· Changing as your student changes; growing and learning as the relationship with your student evolves.
•· Taking joy in your student's willingness to experiment with new thoughts and ideas, especially ones that challenge your own perspective.
While there are times and circumstances where you may need to take on a more protective role with your student, generally the mentorship role is the most developmentally appropriate, at this stage in life.
You may want to develop your own list.
Parents can be challenged by some of the struggles their student encounters at college. Parents ask themselves if they are doing too much and taking away their student's opportunity to develop and mature, or doing too little and allowing their child to sink into the abyss. Each situation is unique, but the following are some good rules of thumb.
When you should stand back:
When you should intervene:
It is not unusual for your student to experience homesickness after the initial excitement of entering college has receded. As your student realizes that college is not a temporary vacation destination but a new home, feelings of sadness and a longing for home may not be far behind.
Conversely, parents may experience a sense of loss and emptiness. This is called the "empty nest" syndrome. You may have been very involved in your student's activities and now there is an empty space that is not being filled.
Ways You Can Help Your Child Combat Homesickness:
•· Plan to attend family weekend, which is in the fall.
•· Send care packages to your student.
•· Encourage your student to join a club or get involved in intramural sports.
•· Without minimizing your student's feelings, be reassuring that things will get better over the course of time.
•· Discourage your student from returning home every weekend.
Avoiding the "Empty Next" syndrome:
•· Get involved in activities you had little time for in the past: Join a club, take a class, start a new hobby or exercise routine.
•· Plan more time with your partner or friends.
•· Celebrate the fact that your student's growing independence is a sign that you have done a good job of parenting.
You may experience a type of midlife crisis. You also may feel a touch of jealousy about your student's new freedom and a life full of possibilities. Use this as a time to reevaluate your own life, make changes and set goals you can still achieve.
Remember that this separation is a process and takes time and effort as you move toward healthy independence. Certainly, it can feel a bit like a balancing act between being too close and too distant. Keep the lines of communication open and ask for support and advice when you are unclear about what to do. The College of St. Scholastica can help both students and families with this process.
When your student returns home for weekends, holidays, or the summer, it will be important to set up new household rules. Your student may expect to have the same independence and freedom experienced at college. Parents may feel the same rules need to apply as before their student left for college.
Negotiate rules that take into account your student's new sense of independence, while at the same time respecting household expectations. These rules should be negotiated before leaving for school. Do not assume that this structure will fall into place without discussion and negotiation.
Your student may feel overwhelmed with the transition to college. The challenges of academics, being away from home, making new friends, and dealing with increased responsibilities may lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. Your student may feel immobilized and unable to concentrate on studies, or self-care. This is a particularly challenging time for the whole family.
Some things to do to support your student:
•· Encourage your student to reach out and talk to a counselor, admissions or academic advisor. They can help your student sort through a variety of options.
•· Discuss the reasons your child chose to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Assess whether these reasons still apply.
•· Identify the pros and cons of taking time off or transferring.
Try to avoid going into a crisis mode, unless there is a safety issue (risk of danger to self or others). Try to avoid making any decisions until there has been time to look at all the options.
Thank you for taking the time to read this information and welcome to the St. Scholastica community. If you have questions, concerns or comments, please call the phone numbers and names of various departments listed below.
The College of St. Scholastica
1200 Kenwood Avenue
Duluth, MN 55811