Letting Go: Suggestions for Parents of College Students

Letting Go: Suggestions for Parents of New (and Old) College Students

By Charlie Morse, Director

WPI Student Development and Counseling

On the threshold of sending my second child away to college and having been on the receiving end of your children for 14 years here at WPI you'd think I would have my act together when it came to this "letting go" thing. But just last night I found myself arguing with my son over missed deadlines for paperwork and his general overall lack of preparedness for his move to college. The dust settled and I realized he nor I are all that "ready" for him to move out and go to college. We ended up having our first real conversation about what it might be like for all of us when he leaves home in a few weeks.

Whether your first child is going to college or you're a seasoned veteran at this transition the next few weeks and months will most likely be an emotional roller coaster for you and your son or daughter. It's only natural that you and they will experience ambivalence in this transition; excitement and fears, great expectations and disappointments, conflicting needs for independence and dependence. First and foremost I would suggest you hold on… and maintain open communication

Some concrete suggestions:

  • Recognize and respect they will have a considerable amount of autonomy on campus and while this may be what they've dreamed of it will probably provoke some anxiety and confusion.
  • Your role is shifting to more of a coach or advisor; you have every right and responsibility to share your opinion and advice. Any attempts to "make them" adhere to your rules will probably fail. Stay connected and negotiate.
  • Shift responsibility in their direction where possible, encourage them to solve their own problems and reach out to resources on campus for help (RA, academic advisor, faculty, health services, counselors)
  • Have a discussion about your and their concerns or expectations about alcohol use, time management, budgeting, and academic outcomes.
  • Place more focus on discussion about the content of their courses and not so much on their grades. The first few terms can be a major adjustment and they may not be able to get the grades they were accustomed to in high school.

Letting go successfully typically involves staying connected in a different way. Your son or daughter will want to look like they're holding it all together, but they may need you more than ever over the next few months.

  • Let them know you're still there for them; talk about how often you wish to talk by phone when they're gone (let them take the lead on this).
  • Send "care packages", notes of encouragement, convey important family news to help them stay connected to the home front.
  • Acquaint yourself with Instant Messaging if you haven't already, but reach out carefully; they can and will block you.
  • Plan a visit to campus (just dropping in is probably not advisable) and even if they say they "don't care" if you come to family weekend plan to come. It's a great opportunity for them to show off their new community.

While your son or daughter is moving into WPI; we welcome the entire family as a part of the WPI community. We have many excellent programs and resources to help in their transition here and fully expect it will be a successful one. As part of the WPI family we welcome and encourage you to reach out with any concerns you might have about your son or daughter and their success as a WPI student.

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