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Loving and Letting Go

From the ages of 18 to 24, young adults face many transitions which can be difficult for them and their parents. College-aged adults still need parental support, but that support should look differently than it did prior to college. Taking a moment to reflect on how parenting can nurture (or not) independent adults who are ready for the next phase of life can ease some of the stress. Here are some tips on parenting your college student:

Resist “saving” your child-

Our instinct as parents is to want to fix things for our child or make them as easy as possible. However, jumping in and taking charge may actually hinder your student’s growth by robbing them of the opportunity to learn problem solving on their own. Your child may need your guidance, but they do not need you to do the task for them. Try to limit your involvement to isolating the problem and guiding your child to the solution rather than solving the problem for them. Start by asking questions to gather needed information:

“Are you struggling with one class or all?”

“Are you concerned with one friend or many?”

“Is it the class or your study habits?”

“What have you tried so far?”

“What resources are available?”

“What are your next steps?”

Talking your child through the process of problem solving, and then encouraging them to follow through with next steps instills skills necessary for life beyond college.

Don’t do tasks for them -

College students often find themselves pulled in many directions with seemingly never ending academic and social obligations. However, learning to prioritize and accomplish tasks is part of growing up. Resist the urge to email, make phone calls, and schedule appointments for them. You can help by role playing, reviewing an email or text, or reminding them about upcoming responsibilities. Sure, there may be circumstances where your student is overwhelmed, and you can help to alleviate some stress, but try not to make a habit of it. Allowing your child to determine their priorities and speak with their own voice builds their confidence and a sense of independence while they develop real world skills.

Don’t obsessively check on your child’s grades-

Constantly going around your child and checking up on their assignments, grades, or tasks sends the message that you don’t think they can do it. Instead set expectations WITH your student (make sure they are reasonable), and then clearly define the consequences (again, making sure they are reasonable). Mid-term grades are a good time to check in on your students' progress and revisit expectations and consequences for the end of the semester.

The goal may be to pull up a grade by the end of the semester, but the expectations are for your child to take responsibility by meeting with the professor, locating resources, and making a plan to meet this goal. The consequences should be set now too, so that the student knows what is at stake.

Help develop (their) goals -

We want the best for our children, but it is important to remember that our ideas about what’s “best” and theirs aren’t always aligned. You may need to curb or change your expectations in order for your child to become their best self. It may be difficult to let go of the grandiose ideas we have for them, but this is their future not ours. Perhaps you are met with resistance from your student because you are pushing your child to achieve your goals for them rather than their own. Have a conversation with your student about their goals, and help them develop a concrete plan to accomplish those goals. Discuss what they view as their strengths and challenges and how they will plan accordingly in a college environment. Encourage them to develop competence over confidence, and ask how you can best support them during this stage of life.

Get active in your own life -

Taking care of your student has been a full time job. For the last 18 years or more you have devoted your time and energy into developing this human so of course it can be difficult to let go. Your role as the caretaker should begin shifting to a supporting role rather than a co-star. This means you will have the energy to take a starring role in your own life. What will that look like for you? What are your goals for this season of life? What connections can you nurture that bring you joy? You have the opportunity to model bravery and vulnerability as you are both working to embrace new roles and challenges.

Young adults must learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and naturally, that process entails some degree of discomfort for their parents as well. By allowing them to be accountable for outcomes in their lives, you are preparing them for life after college. When they were learning to walk you watched them fall and get back on their feet...and you can do it again.

*Please note this article is general advice and is not a substitute for specialized treatment. If you have concerns about your students' mental health or safety please reach out to qualified professionals.


Sarah Jay Gay is a counselor at Thrive Counseling of Oxford. Connect with her: | FB: Sarah Jay Gray M.Ed Counselor | IG: @Sarahjaygray_counselor

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