Ohio University

skip to main content

Letting Go: Suggestions for Parents

Sharing the college experience
As their children begin college, parents often experience a mixture of feelings that are not unlike the ones their sons and daughters are having. It is a combination of excitement and anticipation tinged with a sense of anxiety. There is also a sense that the relationship between parent and child is changing and that things will never be quite the same again.

When students embark on the college experience, parents are often fearful that they will no longer be able to influence them. In the process, parents may lose sight of the fact that this time can also provide an opportunity to forge a stronger relationship that can include pride and satisfaction for everyone.
Realize that your son or daughter will want to be treated maturely by:
•Recognizing that college students have considerable autonomy on a campus.
•Avoiding power struggles by listening to their point of view in an open, respectful way so that differences of opinion can be expressed.
•Stating clearly, when the occasion warrants, what you are willing to be flexible about and what you feel too strongly about to change.
•Trying not to fall back into old roles. For example, asking to speak with your child's teacher is what parents do in high school but not in college.

If you should find that you are missing your son or daughter, stay in touch by:
•Making a regular routine of being in contact through whatever form of messaging you and your student prefer. It is a great idea to ask them about the contact (i.e., how often and what kind) they would like from you and you can express your wishes or expectations about contact you would like from them.
•Planning a visit to campus; this can help you feel more connected to your student's world.
Give your son or daughter room to grow by:
•Accepting that there are times when he or she is going to have to learn the hard way. These occasions often provide the self-taught lessons that your son or daughter will appreciate and value the most.

Although your own experiences may enable you to foresee some of the consequences of these decisions, you will aid his or her growth when you resist "teaching them about life" and giving them the "I told you so" treatment if things don't work out. These messages also can shut down lines of communication and serve to reinforce the idea that your student cannot handle it, when obviously what you want to support is their growing confidence in their good decision making.

Clarify any expectations that you might have by:
•Discussing these expectations before your son or daughter leaves for school will set your relationship up for greater success. Expectations may pertain to relatively straight forward matters such as how many visits home they will be making to more complicated ones like how finances are to be managed. Hopefully you have had conversations about these topics before as your son or daughter has been growing and becoming more independent, but it is never too late to communicate!

Encourage your son or daughter to make his or her own choices by:
•Avoiding the temptation to "rescue" your child even though he or she may call you sounding quite upset. Instead of providing answers to dilemmas all at once, ask what options your child is considering for dealing with the problem.
•Anticipating that some of the more likely situations that your son or daughter may encounter so that you won't over react if they occur. These might include difficulty in getting along with a roommate, home sickness, and temporary loss of self-confidence. Your ability to stay calm can be invaluable in helping them to keep things in perspective.
•Recognizing that college is a time when your son or daughter will be exposed to different viewpoints about political, social, and religious issues that will affect the way he or she sees life.

Getting extra help:
It is important to recognize that even though your son or daughter may be away from home, he or she will still need the love, approval and security that a good relationship with parents provides. However, sometimes there are problems that you cannot help with because of your distance from the situation and/or not knowing what to suggest to your child. If you should become concerned that your child is having more difficulty than you are comfortable with, urge him or her to contact one of the various resources listed under Additional Resources. If you are uncertain as to what these offices provide, you may contact any one of them yourself to ask questions.