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How to Prepare Your Child For College

Pride. Excitement. Panic. Fear. Sadness. These are just some of the emotions that parents can experience as their child prepares to leave for college in a few short months. You still see them as your little boy and girl and so you want to use the short time that is left to try and prepare them for this new life chapter, but what should be focused on?

The time between graduation and starting college can bring on some complicated feelings for parents. On the one hand, you have pride over their high school accomplishments; but, on the other hand, the thought of your child going to a place where there is little structure, limited supervision, and expectations for independence and responsibility may feel a bit terrifying. Having worked with adolescents and their parents for 20 years, I urge you to remember that you still have several months with your child during which you can work on preparing them for this next step in their lives. Here are 5 areas to focus on that will help make your child’s transition to college a success:

1. Life Skills – Stop doing and start supervising

For all of their life, you have done the laundry, cooked their meals, gone to the grocery store, budgeted your money.—all common tasks in adulthood. However, it’s time to take a step back, so that your college bound child can learn. At first, have them shadow you so that they can observe how it is done; but, after that, it is time to just take on the role of supervisor so that they too master these essential skills for true independence.

2. Problem Solving – Stop solving and start encouraging

Life is full of challenges and it is typically a parent’s job to help their kid overcome them. It is now time, however, for your child to start trying to solve their own problems and they will need your encouragement to do so. Whether it’s a conflict with a friend or difficulty signing up for their college courses, it is your job to help them to have the confidence to figure out and execute solutions to the problems. In addition, it is important to teach them that there is no shame in asking for help if they can’t figure something out and then looking with them on the campus website to see where help is found for different issues.

3. Emotions – Stop soothing and start teaching

As the start of college is growing closer, your teenager is most likely going to have moments of strong emotions emerging in the form of anxiety/panic, excitement, irritability, and sadness. When these emotions are expressed, you may be tempted to help to soothe your child and offer reassurance; however, this is not helping them know how to soothe themselves when you are not there. Thus, the best thing that you can do for your child is validate and normalize their feelings, see what’s behind them as there may be a negative belief that needs to be challenged, and then help them to make a list of different things that they can do to decrease the intensity of their feelings (i.e. go to the gym, breathe deeply, take a shower, etc.).

4. Planning – Stop reminding and start stepping back

For all of your child’s life, many of you may have taken on the role of getting your child up, reminding them about deadlines, and making sure that they weren’t late. However, since you won’t be there to wake them up for their college classes or help them to turn in their papers on time, it is time for you to step back and have them take on the responsibility. To assist with the transition, you can teach them how to use their calendar to plan out when to study or use reminders and alarms to help them get things turned in on-time.

5. Balance – Stop avoiding and start discussing

The last thing that needs to be done before your child leaves for college is to have discussions about important, yet difficult topics such as how to drink alcohol responsibly, staying safe at parties (i.e. don’t put your drink down), consent and how to handle pressure for intimacy, and how to get out of risky situations. It also is good to talk about the importance of managing academics, socializing, and self-care and ways to tell if one if out of balance.

If you take advantage of these final months with your child and address these areas, I can guarantee that your child will be more prepared--both practically and emotionally--than most of their peers. Although parenting is never done, these final lessons will help your child to have a successful college career and launch into young adulthood with the skills required for success.

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