How to Parent a College Student

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How to Parent a College Student: 6 Winning Ideas

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Positive Parenting in the Empty Nest Years and Beyond

A guest post by Michelle Wiener

When I think about my son leaving the nest and going away to college, I know we will both go through many changes. He will be in a new environment and city, finding a new peer group, adjusting to life on his own and the rigor of college. I know I will be thinking new things and feeling new feelings.

I may be thinking things like: I miss him.I wonder what he’s doing. I hope he’s figuring things out. I hope the dorm food is okay. I want to talk to him. I may feel empty, lonely, anxious, worried, disconnected, and a loss of control. If I act from these feelings, I may not behave as intentionally as I would like to. I may be tempted to call or text him frequently, ask 101 questions about his college experience, give advice, or tell him I miss him multiple times. How will my son feel as a result? Some possible things that come to mind are annoyed, resentful, guilty, suffocated. This may lead to him wanting less frequent interactions with me.

I know I will need to manage my own feelings during this process. I will need to be kind and compassionate with myself, manage my sense of worry and anxiety about the idea of him being far away, and think of the positives for both my son and me. I will need to begin cultivating a new life for myself. By being aware of my own feelings and managing them in productive ways, I will be more likely to be my best self as a parent.

It’s helpful for me to imagine how I want my son to feel while he is away at school. I want him to feel that he has autonomy, space, independence, freedom, a solid connection to me, and a support system when he needs it. This leads me to ask myself how I want to show up as a parent for my son. Some things that come to mind are: I want to be supportive, helpful, compassionate, calm, grounded, and connected. If this is how I want to show up, I can think about what this looks like in our interactions. When my son goes to college, I will follow these 6 winning ideas for how to parent a college student:

  1. Give him space by communicating just enough and not too much. Perhaps we have an agreed upon frequency and method of check ins.
  2. Text or call just to say “hi” without expectation that he has to get back to me right away.
  3. Ask just enough questions to be interested and find out how he is doing but I won’t “pepper” him with one question after another.
  4. If he brings up a problem or issue, I will ask him if he wants me to just listen or if he wants my advice, help solving the problem, or to get involved.
  5. Send him occasional care packages or cards so that he knows I’m thinking of him.
  6. Ask before I schedule or plan a visit. Perhaps we agree on these in advance.

I’m choosing to prepare in advance mentally for how to parent a college student. I plan to talk with my son about the changes that will come and discuss how I can be helpful and involved in his college life. I’m hopeful that being intentional in how to parent a college student will lead to a healthy and enhanced parent-child relationship in this new stage.

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