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Tips for Parents Whose Kids Are Going Away to College

Tips for Parents Whose Kids Are Going Away to College

Take a deep breath, you’ve got this

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Sending your son or daughter off to school is rewarding and stressful. On one hand, they’re off to become young adults, but on the other hand, how will they do on their own? Luckily, many students — possibly including yourself — have done it before. Here are tips to get you through this exciting, yet anxiety-inducing time.

Go on tours together

Go on tours together

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Going on a trip to tour a college — or five — with your son or daughter can be stressful. What happens if your child gets his or her hopes up on a tour and then doesn’t get accepted into that school? What if you think it’s too far, but your child thinks it isn’t far enough? Besides the initial stress, however, it can be a fun bonding experience. Seeing the campus where your college-bound high-schooler might end up can alleviate some worries you might have about them living alone for the first time.

Be optimistic during rejections

Be optimistic during rejections

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Sometimes, that letter that comes in the mail isn’t a good one. If your child gets a rejection letter from his or her dream school, be positive for them. Give them time to mourn over the news, then continue encouraging them to apply elsewhere.

Teach them cooking basics

Teach them cooking basics

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Sure, they might end up making ramen noodles and mac and cheese more often than not, but teaching them basics like how to cook chicken or the difference between baking with a metal versus a glass dish are lessons they’ll be able to keep beyond the dorm years and into apartment life. Be sure to teach them when different fruits and vegetables are in season or other grocery store hacks you have. Worried they’ll be hungry without your home cooking? Make them a cookbook with all their favorite easy-to-make recipes.

Look at scholarship options and financial aid together

Look at scholarship options and financial aid together

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Choosing colleges isn’t always about who has better major programs or which college has the most beautiful campus. Scholarships and financial aid can be a major factor in picking a school. Figuring out which scholarships to apply for and how to apply for financial aid will be much less stressful if you sit down to do it together. A general starting point is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It will give you both an idea of how much more assistance you’ll need and what to expect when the tuition bill comes.

Sit down and go over finances together

Sit down and go over finances together

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Similarly, going over finances with your college-bound child will prepare them for the real world. If you plan on helping them financially, how much are you going to help? Should your son or daughter get a side job at school to contribute to some of the cost? Should your child start applying for loans? As your son or daughter transitions into adult life, helping them understand money from the start will set them up for a strong financial future.

Be reassuring

Be reassuring

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Starting a new chapter is exciting, but it’s also difficult. Though your child might not express it, they may be feeling sad, worried, nervous or stressed. Give your child the space to feel independent, but let them know that you are there to talk if they need you.

Revisit the safety talk

Revisit the safety talk

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Nearly 80% of college students in the U.S. have abused alcohol, according to the Addiction Center. Further, the Journal of Adolescent Health found that binge-drinking and smoking marijuana was more prevalent among fraternity members than it was among those who weren’t in a fraternity. Whether your future college student is joining Greek life or not, be sure to discuss the dangers and consequences of drinking and drug abuse.

Don’t call too often

Don’t call too often

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Setting boundaries before your child leaves for school is a smart way to avoid conflict once school begins. Calling too often might make them feel as if you don’t trust them. It could also intrude on their attempts at being independent. Maybe you decide on once every three days or once every week. Whatever the agreed-upon schedule, stick to it. If they don’t know how much detergent to put in the washing machine, they’ll call you. If they don’t know whether they should be taking Tylenol or Motrin when they’re sick, they’ll call you.

When you talk, let them lead the conversation

When you talk, let them lead the conversation

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Bombarding your college freshman with questions is either going to annoy them or stress them out. Let your child lead the conversation during your phone calls. Start by asking them how school is going or how dorm life is. Drop in a question about how the food is or whether they’ve joined any organizations. They might need starting points, but let them go from there. By doing this, you might be more likely to get something besides a “yes” or “no” answer.

Encourage them to participate on campus

Encourage them to participate on campus

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You’ve watched your child grow up. You probably know his or her personality better than anyone. If you have a shy child or one that prefers staying in rather than joining a club or organization, encourage participation. It doesn’t mean they have to join 10 things. It doesn’t mean they have to stay involved for their entire college career. Encourage them to seek out events, volunteer opportunities or groups that match their interests. Who knows, they might make lifelong friends in the process.

Stay up to date on news in their town

Stay up to date on news in their town

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Even if it’s the safest city in the world, you’re probably nervous about sending your new college student to an unfamiliar town. Follow the news both on and off campus to feel more in touch with what’s happening close to your child. It could also be a fun way to decide when to visit. Look at a list of events that happen in the city that might be interesting to your family.

Don’t make surprise visits the first year

 Don’t make surprise visits the first year

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Speaking of visiting, you might not want to surprise your child with a visit during their first year away. Almost every weekend, there is going to be something for your child to do — a night on the town with new friends, a movie night in the dorm, taking a hike on a nearby trail or events put on by the organizations they’ve joined. A surprise visit might stress them out or annoy them if they already had plans. Remember, they’re adults with their own schedule now.

Trust them

Trust them

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Whether you went away to school or not, at some point, you went through the process of living and learning on your own. Now it’s time to let your child do the same. This isn’t an easy step. You reprimanded them for staying out past curfew in high school. You made them sit at the dinner table until they finished their broccoli. You watched them walk down the driveway, car keys in hand, ready to drive solo for the first time. Now it’s time to trust that they will make the right decisions while living under their own roof.

Stick to a budget

Stick to a budget

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Start your student off with a budget. Maybe you’re helping with the cost of tuition or food but leaving them in charge of extra expenses like going out to eat or going to the movies. If your student had a high school job, discuss ways in which they can budget that money for personal expenses. Another way to promote good spending and saving habits would be to encourage them to find a campus job or one in the surrounding town. If you plan on covering their personal expenses, decide on how much you’ll give them to budget each month.

Be ready for discouraging calls

Be ready for discouraging calls

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Not everything is sunshine and rainbows the first year away from home. Though you might not get this call, be prepared for a phone call with a rant along the lines of “I hate it here” or “I haven’t made any friends and I don’t know what to do.” Offer an open ear and have suggestions ready.

Send care packages

Send care packages

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They might not want you to call every day, but yes, they love when you send care packages. Shipping a box of your child’s favorite snacks, a book from their favorite bookstore at home or gift cards to their favorite restaurants will make them feel just a little less homesick.

Send them a text

Send them a text

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Not seeing your son or daughter every day is a big adjustment, and you’re going to miss them — a lot. Even though you might not want to be bothersome with a bunch of phone calls while they’re learning to be independent, sending a text is a sweet way to let them know you miss them, or that you’re thinking of them.

Take one last ‘first day of school’ picture

Take one last ‘first day of school’ picture

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OK, so they might roll their eyes and argue that they aren’t little kids anymore. But, deep down, they’re going to love the tacky “first day of school” picture you make them take on the quad or outside their dorm. Make them show off their school spirit with a new T-shirt — they’ll love that memory by the time graduation rolls around.

Prepare yourself for empty nesting

Prepare yourself for empty nesting

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If you’re sending your only child away to school, then you’re already there. If this is your first time sending one of your kids away, prepare for the beginnings of the empty nest. Experiencing a strong sense of loss is normal, but there are ways to manage it. The Mayo Clinic recommends acceptance, keeping in touch, seeking support when needed and doing things that keep you thinking positively.

Manage your emotions

Manage your emotions

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Watching your 18-year-old head off to college isn’t as easy as watching them ride a two-wheel bike for the first time. They’re leaving home, and this can place a lot of sadness, confusion and stress on you. Find healthy ways to manage your emotions during this time, like getting enough sleep, taking some time to yourself and talking to people close to you. Not sure if what you’re feeling is normal? Here are some of the signs you might be experiencing anxiety.

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