6 Pitfalls to Avoid When Your Child Heads to College

Goodbyes are never easy but make your child's transition to college smoother with these parenting tips

Remember the days when getting your child ready to go back to school was relatively simple? The biggest issues were lined or unlined paper, getting the right colored pencils and picking out the “coolest” backpack. 

During the school year, if things weren’t right with a teacher, you could simply call the school or e-mail the principal. If your kid didn’t get homework done due to a family emergency, you simply sent a note to the teacher.

How times have changed.

Now your baby is heading to college. This is a huge turning point for both of you, and things are going to change in ways you may have not anticipated.

It’s hard to let your child go. I remember feeling slightly unanchored when my oldest daughter left for college. How was our relationship going to change? 

It’s hard to let your child go. I remember feeling slightly unanchored when my oldest daughter left for college. How was our relationship going to change? Would we still be close? What were the new “rules of engagement”?

Here are some typical pitfalls to avoid, which will make the transition much easier for both of you. 

1. Don’t hover

It’s very difficult to take a step back when your child is on his own for the first time. But you need to. It’s the only way he’ll learn to be independent.

I have a friend that had an extremely difficult time with this. She felt her son could not function without her input. There were daily calls, texts and reminders (aka the same way she parented him throughout high school, continued). She knew his schedule by heart and called to wake him in time for class as well. During finals, she constantly texted him to study. 

Needless to say, this caused them both a great deal of stress. His grades were poor and he had trouble socializing. He ended up moving home after the first semester.

Of course, he might have come home without the hovering. But now neither he nor his mom will ever know. If we don’t let go enough and let our children discover their own abilities as well as make mistakes, they’ll never live up to their potential. 

2. Don’t jump to conclusions

If your daughter doesn’t pick up the phone when you call or immediately answer your texts, don’t make assumptions.

You always want to know if she’s safe and making good choices, but you can’t assume if she doesn’t get back to you in a timely manner that the worst has happened. More times than not it was due to a phone she forgot to charge, or perhaps academic or social activities that kept her from immediately answering.

3. Don’t try and fix their problems

He has a roommate that is driving him crazy. She couldn’t get in the class she must take for her major. That new computer isn’t working properly.

It is fine to give your child solid advice — like how to negotiate with a roommate, get in contact with her academic counselor or find the nearest IT help desk — but don’t do it for him or her. Giving your children tools to succeed is part of your job. Doing it for them will only create bigger issues down the road.

4. Don’t panic if they stumble

Even if you’ve done a great job instilling all the right values in your child, he will still make mistakes.

Many kids are not prepared for the rigorous work college requires. If he was a kid who could study for a test the night before and ace it or barely try on his homework and still get A’s, he’s in for a rude awakening. The truth is, he may need to learn the hard way that going to a party rather than studying will not create the kind of results he was used to in high school. You can’t make this judgment call for him.

5. Don’t try and cure homesickness with plane tickets

Homesickness can be tough. But sending your child tickets home is not the answer. 

It takes time to find a place in a new community and the quickest cure for homesickness is suggesting ways for your child to find the people and places he might connect best with on campus. Sports, video games, church — whatever your child is passionate about, it more than likely lives somewhere on campus.

6. Never make a surprise visit

I’ve never much cared for the uninvited guest. Like most people, my kitchen probably needs cleaning and the carpets could use a good vacuuming.

Now recall being on your own for the first time. Opening the dorm door to find your parents standing there would not be a happy surprise for most college students. (At least give them notice enough to hide the dirty laundry.) Instead, give your child the gift of time. Let her settle in and get her bearings. Wait at least a few months before you visit and always let her know you’re coming.

My oldest daughter just graduated from college. In hindsight, it’s easy to look back and think about the things I should have done differently. But as I watch her blaze her own path as a confident, accomplished young woman, I realize that by having given her room to experience her own success and failures, she was able to grow and be prepared for the road ahead.

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