Help My Child Adjust to College Life

Help My Child Adjust to College Life

One of the biggest transitions in a parent’s—and child’s—life is leaving for college. Both you and your child are excited and scared. What kind of help to give, as well as how much or how little, is often a great concern for parents. The line between support and interference can be very fine, and it can be both difficult and rewarding to walk. The following suggestions might help make the balancing act easier.

Take it from me: “Support your child whole-heartedly in all of his or her endeavors. After all, this is the time when they will transform into the people that you raised them to be.” –Students, University of Dayton, Flier News (Off to College: Tips from students who've been there, done that)

  • Before College Starts-Go over the basics.
    Talk to your child before leaving for school about everyday living “chores” that he will be responsible for, including:

    • straight talk about money. Your child should know how to write a check, balance a checkbook, use a credit card wisely, and budget. There will be books, supplies, and numerous offers when they get to campus. He will get plenty of practice deciding between what’s necessary and what’s desirable.

    • a demonstration on how to separate white clothes from dark and run a washer and dryer. Strongly encourage your child to wash, rather than buy, underwear when the clean runs out, and to change towels, wash cloths, and bed sheets more than once a month.

    • a reminder to buy—and use—deodorant, shampoo, and toothpaste regularly. The ability to make and keep friends is highly enhanced when personal hygiene habits are strong.

    • encouragement for assertive communication. College will offer situations that high school does not: a group of students wants to go barhopping, or a roommate stays up all night or listens to loud music. Encourage your child to think about choices and consequences, and to communicate those choices assertively.

    • a reminder to lock the door. Keeping private possessions safe is important. It’s also important not to let nonresidents into their halls after hours.

    • the “dope” on drug and alcohol use. Alcohol and drug use appear just about everywhere. While you can’t control—and may never know about—your child’s alcohol/drug use, you can talk about the risks, including sexual assault. Rather than lecture about “just saying no,” urge safety. For example, suggest that your daughter always go out with friends she trusts, and carry her cell phone.


  • Before College Starts-Set some ground rules about my expectations for communication.
    You want to know that your child is okay, and he wants to know you’re interested and supportive. A phone call once a week at a specified time works well for many families. E-mail and instant messaging are popular, too.

    Tip: Hanging back a bit is better than being too intrusive. Living away from home is a step to independence and adulthood. You don’t want to undermine that movement to maturity.

    Tip: Ask about your child’s experiences: favorite class, what he likes most, most interesting new people, and new experiences.

    Remember: Each family is different, as is each child. There will likely be some give-and-take as your child tries out independence, then reconnects with home for emotional support. Some children may need to call more often for a while, some less.


  • After College Starts-Read my parents' handbook and become familiar with the college's Web site.
    All colleges and universities are aware of, and deal with, freshmen (and their parents’) anxieties on an ongoing basis. If you did not receive a parents’ handbook during the application process, request one. It will give you valuable information on every aspect of your child’s new life. The college’s Web site is another excellent source of information.

    A great general resource is the Web site

  • After College Starts-Have a plan in place to deal with homesickness.
    Homesickness is a very common reaction among young adults. suggests these steps:

    • Let your child know that you understand his feelings, agree that he’s taken a big step, and that it’s hard.

    • Let your child talk about his feelings and new experiences. Let him know you’re available to listen.

    • Explain that homesickness is normal, and he’s not alone.

    • Encourage your child to talk to a resident advisor or a university counselor trained to talk about homesickness.

    For additional suggestions, visit: Homesickness: How to Help Your Child

    Remember: The excitement and thrill of “being on my own” can take a hard hit of reality during the first couple of weeks when a young adult realizes they’ve left everything familiar and comforting behind. Even if your child were a “big fish” in high school, the pool is usually a lot bigger in college.

  • After College Starts-Suggest that my child attend any freshman orientation classes or workshops.
    Most colleges offer sessions to introduce newcomers to college life; many provide a well-organized semester course that teaches study skills, time management, and how to get along with others. The best thing about these courses is that everyone taking them is new to the college situation, and your child will have opportunities to make new friends.
  • After College Starts-Remind my child to connect with others to get support.
    It is normal for a new college student to feel isolated, but there are plenty of groups and extracurricular activities that your child can join. Study groups, intramural sports, the college newspaper, and political groups all offer your child a chance for new interests and experiences.
  • After College Starts-If my child has a specific problem, or seems to be having an especially difficult adjustment, encourage him to talk to a residence hall staff member or contact the college's counseling services.
    Residence hall monitors or coordinators can help with roommate conflicts or other living quarters' challenges. A talk with a college counselor can give your child the opportunity to learn how his adjustment is coming: college counselors deal with adjustment issues all the time. Such a visit can also help your son or daughter learn about the kinds of support available on the campus.
  • After College Starts-Encourage your child to solve his own problems.
    Be an empathetic listener, helping him to set his own goals, makes responsible decisions, and accept responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.

    Tip: Firmly express confidence in your child’s ability to work things out. Resist urges to call professors, residence staff, or roommates, or to hop on a plane and bring your child home. A big part of the college experience is learning responsibility and developing a personal management style.

    Alert: If your child shows signs of clinical depression—seriously unhappy day after day, increasingly withdrawn, can’t stop crying—or expresses fear of sexual harassment or personal safety, a problem does exist. Encourage him/her to see a campus counselor immediately. Such a situation may also warrant a phone call to the dean of student affairs, or visit to the campus.


  • After College Starts-Send a "TLC" or "CARE" package occasionally.
    In this age of instant technological communication, it is easy to forget the delight that a package or letter through "snail mail" can generate. A box of your child's favorite cookies or candy (homemade or store-bought) shows your affection in a very material way. (Ask the post office how to pack cookies/candy so they arrive whole rather than in crumbs-although a box of crumbs can be fun, too!)
  • After College Starts-Encourage your child to stay on campus for weekends.
    Coming home every weekend can interfere with your child's full integration into college life and social activities, as well as study time.