A Parent’s Guide to Communicating with Your College Kids


It’s a big adjustment when your child leaves for college. You’re used to talking face to face each day and sleeping under the same roof. Now, you have to find a new way of communicating that respects their growing independence while still providing guidance and support. 

If you’re a parent searching for balance, consider these suggestions. They’ll help your family to manage the transition from high school to college. 

Steps to Take for When Your Child Is on Campus 

Technology makes it easier to stay in touch, but it can also make it harder to let go. Some university surveys show that parents and students average about 13 contacts a week. 

Keep in touch and help your child adapt to these new changes with these strategies: 

1. Exercise restraint. While it’s natural to want to know what your child is doing and what their new friends are like, it’s important to step back. Let your child decide how they want to engage with you. Of course, you can still intervene if you have any serious concerns. 

2. Clarify expectations. One major decision is the frequency and methods for communicating. Follow their lead if they want to set up a regular phone time each week or just text you as needed. 

3. Provide coaching. What will you do when your son or daughter contacts you about homesickness or roommate troubles? Instead of trying to solve their conflicts, be prepared to support them in finding their own answers. 

4. Listen closely. While you’re pulling back, you can reassure your child that you care by giving them your full attention. Be enthusiastic and compassionate when they describe the ups and downs of being a freshman. 

5. Focus on learning. Education is about more than grades. Let them know that you’re proud of them for making an effort and enriching their minds. 

6. Send care packages. These days, you may send a digital gift card instead of shipping a box of cookies, but the message is the same. Treats and toiletries will be welcome gifts. 

7. Share updates. Your child will also appreciate news from home. Tell them about your home improvement projects or what their siblings are doing. 

8. Explore campus resources. Take advantage of any services the university offers. Encourage your child to use the career and health centers. Attend family weekends and other events. 

9. Bond with other parents. Reach out to other parents with college-age children. You can learn from each other’s experiences. 

Steps to Take for When Your Child Is at Home 

Your child will probably be returning home for holidays and other visits. Be prepared for the new dynamics. 

Consider these ideas: 

1. Negotiate house rules. As your child matures, it’s reasonable to grant them more freedom while respecting your own needs. That might mean reaching an agreement about waking up before noon and doing your own laundry. 

2. Allow for downtime. Your child will probably want plenty of time to study, rest, and hang out with high school friends. Let them know in advance if there is something special you want to do together so you can work it into your schedules. 

3. Master new technology. Maybe you just started Skyping and now your daughter would rather connect through Portal. Ask for a lesson while your kids are home so you can keep up. 

4. Embrace change. Your child may look and sound quite different from the last time you saw them. Be positive and patient as they’re redefining their identity. 

As a parent, you can maintain healthy boundaries and stay connected with your child during their college years. Think of this time as an opportunity to celebrate your child’s achievements and nurture your evolving relationship. 

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