Is your child mentally prepared for college life? Discover 10 essential tips to ensure a smooth transition
Here are tips for parents to provide the necessary support and guidance, fostering a positive and fulfilling college experience for their beloved young adults.
"Remember, you'll have to learn to keep your things in place because I won't be there once you move to college. Why do you have to spend all your free time with friends? Don't you feel like spending time with your family?" Remarks like these, along with a jumble of feelings ranging from sadness, worry, and fear tinged with hope and optimism, fill up a home when a child is about to leave the home to embark on a new journey of college life. During transitions like this, we often focus only on external things like planning, travel details, and buying and packing stuff (all important things) and tend to brush off the feelings and emotions experienced during this time.
However, with newfound independence, academic challenges, and social adjustments, it's essential for parents to play a supportive role in their child's mental health journey during the college transition and beyond. Dr. Shalini Sharma, Counselling Psychologist and Therapist at Plaksha University shared with HT Lifestyle some things we can keep in mind to support our child’s mental well-being during and after the transition to college. (Also read: How parents can identify and support their child's passions and talents )
Tips to Prepare Your Child for the College Transition
1. Reframe your role as a parent from a CEO to a consultant
With every new phase of parenting, it’s important to tweak and refine our role. As parents to young children, our role involves more control in day-to-day matters and now, as they leave home it can be a great time to transition to a more consultant-like role: offering support, advice and a space to express and listen.
2. Soiling the nest
Prior to leaving home, many teens often become difficult to deal with and at times aloof which can lead to constant arguing between parent and child. This is a part of development, although not a pleasant one, that most teens go through to figure out who they are as individuals. Acknowledging this reminds us not to take it personally.
3. Open conversations
Let your child know about any family history of mental health conditions and create a space where they feel safe to talk about their own mental well-being. This equips them with the tools needed to cope with unsettling emotions like anxiety, panic or overwhelm.
4. Too much, too little, just right!
There is always a struggle in balancing how frequently to be in touch with our child in college. A good starting point could be a conversation asking, “How often would you want to talk or check in? What works for you, every day or alternate days?”
5. Manage your emotions
Most often children get a sense of how much they can share with a parent based on their parent’s reaction to their sadness, anxiety, anger or any unpleasant feelings. Depending on how positive or negative the reaction is, the child either feels safe to express themself or shuts down and does not share. A helpful question to ask ourselves is if our own emotional reactivity is coming in the way of our kids sharing things with us.
6. Complaining or processing?
Teens and young adults often express mental health struggles through complaining and frustration. Instead of automatically shutting down their complaints this could be an opening for more listening and less advice. This not only allows the child to talk about the issue freely but it also sets them up better to see the way forward.
7. Resist the urge to swoop in and solve their problems
Teen: I have so many assignments to be submitted!
Parent: Why don’t you plan your time better so that it doesn’t pile up towards the last date?
Teen: There’s no point in talking to you!!
While this sounds like obvious and sound advice, however, it does not take the conversation forward. Instead of focusing on the actual words try and pinpoint the feeling underneath the words.” Tell me more about it, I am sure it feels very frustrating”. We don’t always have to provide solutions.
8. Reality check
Our plans for them and their plans for them may not always match. Of course, we want them to be safe, eat healthy, get adequate sleep, attend classes and feel a sense of belonging. However, realistically, all of this may not happen and more unlikely all at the same time. Let them know these years are like a practice ground to experiment within safety limits and figure out what works best for them.
9. Normalize asking for support and help
Encourage your teens to seek out possible support and resources for their well- being available on campus. Let them know in very clear terms that you support them in seeking help for their mental health and it is a courageous act to do so. You don’t have to wait for a clinical diagnosis of a mental health condition to reach out.
10. We need to ease the pressure
As parents, implicitly or explicitly we tend to pass the belief onto our children that we require a certain grade, college or job offer to prove our worth to others. However, what truly matters is knowing how to handle situations that don’t go as planned. We acknowledge the disappointment and hurt but also navigate our way through it so that we don’t feel stuck there.
At last, pat yourself on your shoulders. You can be proud to be part of one of the most challenging and rewarding of all careers - Parenthood! Remind yourself that you are a good parent and your child is a good kid and both of you are learning to navigate a new road. Finally, on a lighter note, you can get yourself that pet you’ve always wanted when your children go to college.