Ask open-ended questions****. Remember the goal is to keep communication open, not to close it. Try not to sound as if you are preaching. When you are trying to make a point, use the words “I would rather that you...”
Be open and honest about your values and expectations on sensitive subjects such as alcohol, drugs, and sex. State your views without coming across as judgmental.
Remember that listening is part of communicating. Being a good sounding board is an important part of the process.
Expect to disagree on some key issues. Keep in mind that your student is struggling for independence and autonomy-not co-dependence.
Take some extra time to communicate your support and encouragement. Positive feedback is especially important for your child at this time.
Discuss the connections between alcohol, drugs, and sexual assault. Emphasize that in order to make good judgments, a person needs to be in control. If your child goes to a party with friends, encourage him or her to leave with those same friends. Suggest that transportation arrangements be planned in advance.
Stress to your student that alcohol is toxic and excessive consumption can fatally poison. This is not a scare tactic. The fact is that students die every year from alcohol poisoning. Discourage dangerous binge drinking and participation in drinking games. Parents should ask their students to also have the courage to intervene when they see someone putting their life at risk through participation in dangerous drinking.
Don't overreact to those first frantic telephone calls! Listen carefully, and try to determine how best to address your child's need at the moment. Don't panic!
Don't be surprised if your son or daughter expresses strong emotions one day, and then these feelings disappear the next day. It is not unusual to receive a call that “nothing is going right” or “I want to come home”-and then the next day, “all is well.”
Brainstorm options and possible courses of action with your student as problems arise. Generating choices with your child conveys that you care and also puts the responsibility on him or her for follow-up.
Encourage your child to work through problems with their roommates as they arise. A series of misunderstandings may erupt into a major confrontation if tensions are allowed to build.
It is important to remember that students need to fight their own battles. Situations can become more complicated when parents get involved in roommate problems.
Remember that times change! Be careful about giving advice based on your own college experience. What worked for you some years ago may not be effective for your son or daughter.
Place the responsibility for connecting with resources at the first sign of academic trouble on your student. Students should reach out to campus support services such as tutors, advisers, and deans.
Ask questions about how your child is spending free time and with whom he or she is spending it. The way your child spends time can give clues as to whether he or she is engaging in risky activities.
Remember that it is your student who needs to take responsibility for managing his or her time. Attempting to organize your child's time can often complicate matters. However, as a parent, you can provide some helpful tips.
Even if your child has made some poor decisions, try not to place blame directly on him or her. Using “I” statements rather than “you” statements allows you to express how you feel without sounding accusatory.
Work on controlling your emotions****. Feelings of anger and disappointment will come through even on the telephone.
Choosing a major is a process that takes time. It may be difficult not to step in and choose a major for your child. Encourage your students to explore academic programs, but do not project your own views into the process. Remember that a student's choice of a major is based on his or her abilities and interests, not yours.
Parents should be aware when final grades are available. Information can be found on the CSUMB website. Keep in mind that CSUMB honors FERPA law, and therefore you will not receive notification of your child's grades, judicial records, etc.
When you discuss any changes, remember that your student “owns” the plan. Your role is to share your expectations and provide support, not to assume responsibility for decisions and follow-through. That is up to your college student.
If this is your second (or third) child going off to college, remember and respect the differences of each of your children as you apply these strategies.
Adapted from: MacKay, J.K., Ingram, W.J. Let the Journey Begin: A Parent's Monthly Guide to the College Experience. Houghton Mifflin Co., 2002.
Self care for parents of college students
Carve out time for yourself. If this is your first child going off to school or your last child, they have taken up a certain amount of your daily time. Replace that time with activities for yourself, i.e. classes, movies, massages, etc.
Get involved with something that really interests you or you have a passion about. Doing this may assist your student in getting involved in new campus activities.
Develop a support network for yourself****. Have friends to call when you feel worried, anxious, or have an emotionally charged conversation with your student.
Seek out parents who have been through this experience and talk with them.
If reading or gaining information from written material is useful to you, then seek it out. There are books, organizations, and websites that parents have found useful, including resources targeted to specific populations and students with special needs.
Be calm****. Go elsewhere to process your worries and concerns. Don't put your anxieties on your student. They have enough of their own.
Don't get on your student's rollercoaster****. Students may call home during the first several weeks with alternating feelings about school. They either love it or hate it, and sometimes both in the same phone call. Remember to BREATHE while listening to them because they won't be!
Resist calling your student too frequently. Set a goal of calling them once a week and stick to it. Let them call you.
Become aware of your self-talk and self-defeating beliefs. What we say to ourselves about ourself and others, affects how we feel and what we do. Stay away from “shoulds” and “oughts.”
Take responsibility for your own emotions and reactions****. If upon reflection, you think you have overreacted when communicating with your student, clean up your mistake. This modeling of behavior may be more useful than any advice you give.
Focus on your own growth and development. As your student goes off to pursue their goals, think about what you have wanted to do that has been put on hold, and go DO IT!
Remember to keep a dialogue with yourself that supports your new relationship with your student, such as; “I have to let go,” “He/She can figure this out,” “I don't have to be a hovering parent.”
START NOW****. Use this summer to begin your new relationship with your student. Begin treating your student as the independent person they will become once school starts.
Caroline Haskell, LCSW, BCD, Director of Health and Wellness Services
Founding Director of the Personal Growth and Counseling Center
Lynne White Dixon, LCSW, Clinical Supervisor, Personal Growth & Counseling Center
See more at the Personal Growth & Counseling Center.