Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: Now that you’ve dropped off your child at college …
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
It’s that time of year again! Time for kids of all ages to return to school!
Whether you have a kindergartner and you’re facing this ritual for the first time or you’re dropping off your youngest to the college of his/her choice, the return-to-school experience is a yearly adventure that can range from captivating to dreadful. It certainly isn’t for the faint of heart!
Myriad emotions could be surfacing as you prepare your little or big youngster to head back to school. Some parents are eager, excited and more than ready for the summer slowdown to be over; others are mournful, melancholy and rather wistful that the summer is ending.
It seems that there are two major parenting transitions: when your kids arrive and then when they leave approximately 18 years later. If you are a parent whose youngster is heading to college (whether it’s your first, your second or your last time to do this), here are some tips to help while riding that emotional roller coaster called “dropping them off at college:”
- Trust your parenting! You have spent their first 18 years teaching, coaching, role modeling and correcting so that you could provide your child with all the tools needed to succeed – socially, academically, spiritually and athletically. Once you walk out of that newly decorated dorm room and head for you car, whisper a little prayer of thanksgiving … your child is equipped!
- Empower your child! Remind your child that he/she has the tools to be successful. Inform them that you will be “in the balcony” of their lives cheering them on, believing in their sound judgment and encouraging their decision-making. Remember, you have spent all their lives planting seeds; trust that those seeds have blossomed into confidence, readiness and mettle.
- Be an anchor! For those times when your youngster may feel overwhelmed, worried, frightened or directionless, be their anchor – be the home base that they KNOW will always be there. You can be available to consult, to coach, to challenge as they try to figure out the answers to their current dilemmas. But remember, don’t solve or fix the problem for them. (Remember point No. 1.)
- Avoid saying, “These are the best years of your life!” Being away from home for the first time can be daunting – so much to learn, to figure out, to adjust to. And your youngster might have to make all new friends; at times, even though the campus is alive with action, they may feel alone and sad. College adjustment is difficult to navigate at times. BUT, support them, believe in them, remind them of their tremendous value, encourage patience – and soon they will find their niche and begin to love where they are!
- Launch them! Avoid the temptations. Don’t stalk them on social media; don’t put a tracker on their phone or car, don’t over-schedule visits, and please, please don’t phone them every day or text them every hour! Instead, agree to what is comfortable. How can they begin to truly put their toes in the “adult” pool and learn to swim if you are constantly in their ear? Show your confidence in them – look forward to phone calls once or twice a week and let them spread their wings!
- Find an outlet of your own! Now is the time to take up a new hobby, arrange lunches and dinners with friends, plant a garden, purge your home and redecorate … the opportunities are endless. BUT – this is extremely important – if you change their childhood bedroom into a home office, an exercise room, a crafts room, etc., let your child know BEFORE s/he comes home for a weekend visit!
Yes, you WILL survive … even though at times you wonder if you will. And how exciting it is to bask in the success of your youngster when you see them bloom and flourish in the college soil of their choice. Indeed, you can put your thumbs in your suspenders, lean back and say, “THAT’S MY CHILD!”