How I Cured My Homesickness

(An Actual Photo I Sent My Mom)

A picture is worth a thousand words. A sad picture is worth a thousand more. I sent my mom an “I’m miserable” email my first month of college and attached this photo to it. She still brings this email up from time to time. It’s something she wasn’t expecting and wasn’t sure how to respond to—her unhappy ‘little girl’ was miles away and she felt helpless.

I didn’t really think about how this email would affect my mom when I pushed ‘send.’ I should have. The first few months of college were difficult and I constantly asked myself—and my parents—‘Did I make the right decision?’ However, that email was a bit melodramatic. Sorry, mom.

You may receive a few sad messages during the first semester, but if your child is anything like me, he or she is probably exaggerating how ‘bad’ things really are. It’s important to take these messages seriously, but stay positive and remember things will get better.

To help make your kid’s college transition a little less painful:

  • Reassure them that they’ve made a good decision.
    • Your kid may doubt his or her college choice, this is common, but you need to be the voice of reason. If these thoughts still exist after the first year, then consider transferring schools. A few months, though, is too soon—in my opinion—to know whether or not you’ve chosen the college that’s right for you.
  • Pop a card in the mailbox.
    • Cards may be cliché but they’re much appreciated. You’re guaranteed a smile when your kid checks the mailbox and is surprised to see it’s not empty.
  • Suggest getting involved on campus.
    • I was super shy until I joined a sorority my second semester freshmen year. Sometimes all it takes is joining an organization or becoming a member of a club to feel more “at home” on campus.
  • Send care packages.
    • Guys and girls get giddy when they get a note saying there’s a package waiting for them in the mailroom. My guy friends loved when their moms would send homemade chocolate chip cookies and silly gifts…it’s the little things that’ll make a big difference.
  • Act busy. Pretend you are even if you aren’t.
    • This one’s tough. The idea of coming home every weekend will be less appealing if your kid feels like he or she won’t get to spend much, if any, time with you. As much as you want to see your kid—it’s better they spend weekends at school where they can build friendships.

Dealing with an anxious college freshman isn’t going to be easy, but it’s better than dealing with the alternative. Approximately one in four students will drop out of college their first year1—you can help stop your kid from traveling down that path. It just takes a little TLC…and a bit of patience.

Helping combat college stress is all part of being a parent, but knowing how to identify normal college stress vs. depression is even more useful.

Now keep in mind, this was my own experience with the freshman year blues. Everyone’s different. Take a look at these symptoms of depression and see if your child is experiencing something more serious than stress and homesickness. And if they are experiencing any of these symptoms, make sure they seek help immediately at their campus counseling center.

 

1 Whitbourne, Jonathan. (2007). The Dropout Dilemma. http://moneymanagement.unt.edu/pdf/documents/dropout.pdf

How to Stop Arguing with Your College Kid

Here’s a situation that may sound familiar: While helping your college kid pack, you present them with a small first aid kit you put together and begin pointing out certain things. You didn’t know it, but you just hit a soft spot. “I got you a thermometer just in case you…” and your son cuts you off with, “Just in case what, Mom? I’m not a baby—if I need this stuff, I’ll get it myself.”

He storms out of the room and a mound of unpacked supplies surrounds you as you think, “I don’t understand what just happened—I was only trying to help.” According to Psychotherapist, F. Diane Barth, LCSW, in her Psychology Today article, this is extremely common, though often completely unexpected, behavior:

“Just when you are feeling sad and vulnerable about the upcoming separation from your beloved child, it seems like anything you say or do can provoke a fight. You feel like an innocent victim of your almost college student’s unpredictable irritability.”

It’s important to remember that much of this arguing is just your kid’s way of managing their conflicting feelings about leaving home for college, says Barth. There’s a good chance your kid isn’t sure how to balance all the confusing emotions they’re feeling: excitement, fear, anxiety, doubt, stress. They may be eager to leave, so they start bickering with those they’re closest to—namely their parents. Aren’t you lucky?

There is, however, another reason for all this arguing that Barth brought to mind: parents’ envy. You might not realize you’re doing it, but thinking things like, “My kid’s life is just beginning and mine feels like it’s coming to an end,” is an indication that you may be a bit envious. And that’s ok. You just need to learn to better manage your feelings about your kid leaving home for college and filter your thoughts.

Now that you know conflict is a normal, yet painful, part of the leaving home for college process, how do you deal with it? We’ve pulled a few tips on how to stop arguring with your college kid from Barth’s article and added a few of our own to help you set realistic boundaries while arguing:

  1. Cruelty is not allowed. Neither are interruptions.
  2. Listen to one another. Don’t just pretend to.
  3. Take turns. Try not to dominate the disagreement.
  4. Compromise is key: be willing to give a little to get a little.
  5. Make up (over and over and over again).
  6. Apologize if you feel you’ve crossed the line.
  7. Accept apologies and don’t hold grudges.
  8. Refrain from resurrecting past arguments.

The good news? This type of arguing usually tapers off with time. Give your kid a few weeks to adjust to college life and we bet you’ll spend less time bickering—and more time laughing—with your child. Well, that is at least until Midterm Week…

Tell us your thoughts: Did you argue with your kid as they were getting ready to head off to school?

Tips for Maintaining a Strong Sibling Relationship During College

Is your child missing their college sibling? Are they having trouble adjusting to the new family dynamic? Like you, they’re probably feeling the change, and the loss of the sibling bond, as well—but they may not be as vocal about it.

While researching this topic, I came across an article on how college often improves sibling relationships  — and I’d have to agree with the author and Washington University alum, Sarah Baicker.

My brother was starting high school when I was starting college, so we were both experiencing big changes, but the new breathing room between us made way for a better relationship with fewer arguments. Dr. Baum-Baicker, a clinical psychologist, puts it best:

 “Sibling relationships in adulthood tend to mirror what they were in childhood. It’s like a rubber band. If the relationship was good in childhood, it will snap back.”

 

My relationship with my brother definitely snapped back when I started school. Soon I was sending him facebook messages, and he’d email me his favorite youtube videos. The first few months, I’d even call him just to see how my parents were holding up without me at home. It’s important to keep this in mind though:

“If the relationship in childhood wasn’t close, it will probably become distant after the college transition,” said Dr. Baum-Baicker.

 

To help your children maintain a good sibling relationship while one is in college, shoot this article their way: Helping Your College Student With Sibling Relationships . It has a lot of great tips for before your student leaves for school, once they’ve left and when they return home for a visit.

Here are some quick tips on how you can help your kids maintain a good Sibling Relationship:

-Include siblings when getting your kid ready for college.
-Help your children unbottle their emotions and share their feelings.
-Suggest your college student spend some quality time with their siblings.

The one tip I came across that I wish my mom had thought to do is this: Ask a sibling to help prepare a care package to send to their college sibling. My mom’s care packages were honestly great, but one from my brother would have been pretty cool, too. If he had chosen items to include in the package, I think he’d put some of his favorite CDs in there, a funny movie, some candy we loved growing up, a new pair of headphones and possibly a silly toy or something random to remind me of when we were crazy kids.

So when one of your kids moves away, there’s no reason to think that’s the end of their close sibling bond. If they make the effort to keep in contact—and you’re there to remind them if they start slacking—I’ll bet you’ll see their bond grow even stronger. This can definitely help your child deal with the changes that your college going kid will bring about in the family dynamics.

Top 4 Ways to Stay Connected with Your College Kid

While getting your kid ready for college, many thoughts will come to mind—some good, some not so good. Worries like this may even start to surface: I’m not going to be able to stay close with my college student when they’re miles from home. Don’t fret! In our super-connected society, even technologically inept parents (like you?) can connect with their family and friends in a flash.

Keep in mind, it’s a good idea to talk to your son or daughter about when’s the best time to contact them, and try sticking to that schedule. Don’t freak out though if your kid calls you—in tears—at 3am. That’ll happen. You won’t be the first college parent to receive this type of call, and you certainly won’t be the last. Just know that most students are quick to bounce back, and your child will probably be over whatever kept them up at night by the next morning.

So what about all those unscheduled talks you’ll surely share with your student over the next four (or so) years? With so many options to keep in touch with, it’s understandable that you may have some trouble deciding which method of communication to use in certain scenarios. That’s where we can help.

The main question to ask yourself when you’re about to contact your college kid is:

 ”What’s the lowest level of communication I can use to get my message across effectively?”

If you stick to this rule the majority of the time, there’s a good chance you’ll be giving your kid the space they want while still being able to share the things you need to with them on a regular basis.

Here are the four main levels of communication and the best times to use each of them:

Level 1: Text/Texting—Best for simple, short and straightforward messages. Texts are also great for quick reminders and for sending fun picture messages from home.

  • When to text: During the day when you simply want to send your student a quick note like, “I love you” or “Good luck on your exam!” There’s no expectation to respond to a text, so your son or daughter can get it, read it, smile and be on their way. Check out our Parent’s Guide on Texting and also learn how to translate your college kid’s texts.

 

Level 2: Email—Ideal for longer messages that require more explanation. You may surprised by how much your kid will reveal through email because there’s no parental negative tone of voice or body language for them to react to while writing it.

  • When to email: Any time you have something to share that’s easier to write than to say. Because of the nature of this medium, your more serious messages may come across more effectively in a thought-out email (that they can receive and reflect on) than a heated, live phone call.

 

Level 3: Phone call—Good for happy, fun conversations and pep talks. A call can be a great pick-me-up when your student is hibernating in the library, studying for their midterm and needing a break from the books.

  • When to call: Best for setting up plans (travel arrangements, etc.) and discussing things in detail during the day. Unless it’s an emergency, try to not call your child at night.

 

Level 4: Video chat—Perfect for conversations that call for visuals. For example, if you’re telling your daughter about the dress you bought for their cousin’s wedding next month, why not model it for her to approve (or disapprove of) over video chat? With services like Skype, you can talk face-to-face with live video for free.

  • When to video chat: If your kid’s homesickness hits a high level, it may be time for a video chat. Here’s an idea: Skype with the family dog, Fido, on your lap, facing the camera. That way they’ll get to connect with you and their furry friend from home.
  •  It’s easy to create a Skype account online.

 

We hope we’ve sufficiently convinced you that it’s not impossible—and it’s not difficult—to maintain a strong relationship with your college student even when they’re miles away. It just takes a bit of forethought, some time and the desire to utilize the many different methods of communication available to you.

If you are not tech savvy, and need a little help on the computer, you may want to check out our article on becoming a more computer literate college parent.

 

How do you plan on staying in touch with your college student? We’d love to hear your methods of keeping connected.

Helicopter Parents: Are You Helping or Hindering Your College Kid?

You’ve heard it on the news, read about it in books, seen it all over websites—the term “helicopter parents” has really taken off in the last few years. It’s often used to describe parents who are extremely involved in their child’s life, and “hover” over everything they do. Some say this type of parenting works, while others think it puts children at a disadvantage when they journey out on their own into the real world.

What do you think? If parents are so intimately connected to every aspect of their kid’s academic and social life as they grow up, what will happen when that child goes off to college? And, how do helicopter parents deal with their kids being so far out of reach?

An article we came across from msnbc.com highlights a study conducted in 2010 that took a closer look at the effects helicopter parenting had on college students. The study, done by researchers at Keene College in New Hampshire, found that these students were more vulnerable, anxious and self-conscious than those students who didn’t have helicopter parents.

Being overly dependent and more neurotic are probably not the qualities most parents try to cultivate in their college kids, so that makes helicopter parenting a huge problem, right? Well, not so fast… The National Survey of Student Engagement found children of helicopter parents reported more satisfactory college experiences and did better in areas of critical thinking and writing.

Wanting your child to do well and succeed in life is every parent’s aspiration. Yet, according to many college professors and administrators, the helicopter parents take this a little too far by constantly swooping in and solving their kids’ problems.

From calling professors about grades to contacting RAs about roommates, parents are getting more and more involved in college life. If you think this sounds a lot like you, you may want to take a step back and find a balance between guidance and interference.

It just makes sense: The more you do for your kid now, the less they’ll know how to do for themselves later. Learning from their mistakes may seem like a cliché, but all clichés are grounded in truth. College is a time for your child to take everything you’ve taught them, and use it to overcome challenges on their own. As one college parent put it: You’ve got to let go to let them succeed.

Do you consider helicopter parents a good or bad thing? Let us know what you think.

5 Etiquette Rules for Parents on Facebook

Facebook is probably already a huge part of your college kid’s life. Increasingly, parents are joining Facebook to connect with their own friends, co-workers and family members. But before you decide to friend your child, or even if you already have, here are 5 rules of  Facebook etiquette for parents to think about:

1.  Before you “friend” your son or daughter, talk about it with him or her. Let them know you won’t stalk them—and then don’t. This will help prevent your friend request from being ignored or worse yet, being left in friend limbo (not being accepted or rejected, therefore not giving you access to their page or the option to friend them again).

2.  Exercise discretion when it comes to writing on their wall. Do wish them Happy Birthday or good luck on a test.  Don’t remind them to take their medication or wear their retainer, those messages can be discussed in a personal message or on the phone.

3.  Think before you post pictures of your child.  Even if you have an adorable picture of your son naked in the tub when he was three, refrain from putting it online.  If you do everyone will get a notification that there is a naked picture of your son on Facebook. Don’t be surprised if he untags himself or even unfriends you all together.

4.  Also, think before commenting on pictures of your child, including those posted by one of their friends.  If you see something you don’t like, don’t post a nasty message. Instead, take a minute and think about whether the picture is really risky in the long run, if it is then talk to them about it, offline. Remember you were that age once too; if it didn’t hurt you it won’t hurt them.

5.  Lastly, do not friend your child’s friends.  Even if you’ve known them since they were born, let them make the decision to friend you. If they do friend you, don’t go telling their parents about every status update and picture posted to their wall. No one likes a tattletale and you may find yourself being unfriended.

There is a site where kids can post messages that parents send to their kids’ Facebook pages, MyParentsJoinedFacebook.com, and unless you want your embarrassing and uncalled for Facebook posts on this site, be cool. Facebook can be a great way to stay in touch with your college kid, but if you stalk your child’s page you may lose a Facebook friend.

You can also find some helpful safety tips on the Facebook Family Safety Center.

What helpful advice or personal experience can you add?

How to Involve the Grandparents in Your Kid’s College Experience

Take your grandparents to college day. It’s not an officially recognized day—but we think it should be. Numerous studies show that college students with strong, extended support systems back home tend to do better in school. So if your parents seem like they want to be more involved in their grandkid’s college experience, help them to do so.

Plus, what college kid wouldn’t feel cool showing off their grandparents around campus?

So when you’re ready to schedule a visit…
Remember to check with your child before popping over for a surprise on-campus family get-together. After you get the all-clear, pick up their grandparents and head over to their college for a nice dinner and a play, movie or sporting event—something you’ll all enjoy. And don’t forget to tell your son or daughter to clean up their dorm room or apartment beforehand. That way, grandma won’t trip over textbooks strewn throughout the room.

Even if your child’s grandparents can’t swing a visit, they can still be involved in their education.

Think about it…
-Your care package may be a nice surprise. Grandpa’s care package will be totally unexpected.
-Your ears and sound advice are awesome, but everyone likes a second opinion. So why not get grandpa involved?
- You might not agree, but even though your homemade cookies are good, Grandma’s are better.
- It’ll be nice for your kid to hear someone else’s voice on the other end of the line, some of the time.

So how can you help get your parents more involved?

It’s simple: make sure your parents have your kid’s most recent campus mailing address, dorm phone number and cell phone number. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to provide them with a copy of their class, break, vacation, midterm and finals schedules, either. That’ll make it easy for them to send care packages at appropriate times and call when they know their grandkid has time to chat. For more ideas on how to get your parents involved, check out this College Parents article.

And if you’ve got younger kids (between the ages of 7 and 14), there’s a unique opportunity for them to experience college life with their grandparents firsthand: Grandparents University. They’ll stay in a campus dorm, eat college cafeteria food and attend classes together. It’s a tradition that started at UW-Madison 10 years ago and has become a popular phenomenon.

How to Deal with Empty Nest Syndrome

Your college kids have flown the coop. They’re out soaring while you’re left alone in this big empty nest…now what? You’ve lived in a child-centered universe for nearly two decades, so you may not know what to do with all this foreign free time. (Free time: chunks of time when you have absolutely nothing to do; no games to cheer at…no homework to check…no lunches to make, etc.).

You’ll always be Mom (or Dad)—only now, it’s from a distance in a different way.
When your children were growing up, you may have put yourself, your spouse and your friends on the backburner. It happens. But now that you’ve got some free time, why not work on rebuilding those relationships?

Empty nest syndrome-Here’s how you can refresh your empty nest, yourself and your life:

Reconnect with those who matter.
Call up an old friend and grab dinner. Connect with your spouse over projects and games—focus on having fun together instead of worrying about your kids (which is probably the glue that has connected you two over the years). Why not surprise them with a weekend getaway?

Reenergize your daily activities.
Do something new that excites you. That something’s even better if it interests your partner as well: attend events, join clubs, take workshops or volunteer together. Park districts and community colleges are great places to take classes or try out common activities. And if you’re feeling motivated, remodel your empty nest, redo a room or take up a hobby.

Refocus your priorities.
You’re a parent—not a helicopter—don’t hover. Your kids are your main priority, but you can’t smother them as a symptom of empty nest syndrome. You might experience sadness, fear in what your role in life is now, major adjustments in what you do each day, how you view yourself, and how your marriage functions1, and that’s normal. But eventually, you’ll need to come to terms with the change and find new things that make you happy.

read more on adjusting to your new role as a college parent.

1Saltz, Dr. Gail. (2010). Six Steps to Getting Over an ‘Empty Nest.’

It Ain’t Easy Saying Goodbye: Tips For New College Parents

“Well, you can describe me as a mother who’s gonna be a mess! I think the term they use is a Mother Nutter.”

Maureen Duggan is a mother of two who lives in Carpentersville, Illinois. Her oldest daughter, Maggie, is heading off to college and her school isn’t exactly close: Maggie is going to be a freshman at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.

“Yeah, seven hours away,” Maureen explained. “This is the first time she’s going to be away from home. She’s relied on us for so much…it’s going to be hard to be so far apart. It’s not like I can just jump in the car and get there in a hurry if she needs me.”

“It’s constantly on my mind,” she laughs. “Then I think: Am I just being nuts about this?”

Millions of moms and dads all over the country go through the exact same thing. Worrying. Sleepless nights. Bouts of anxiety. And that’s before their kid even leaves for college.

“I already know I’m going to have to learn how to Skype,” Maureen says as she thinks about how they’ll stay in touch when Maggie is gone. “And we already text a lot, so we’ll continue to do that.”

Like Maureen, parents are turning to social media to help them feel close to their kids when they’re at school.

“I’ll friend her on Facebook, but I’m not sure how much I really want to know,” she chuckles. “I can’t be one of those creepers.

As far as worrying about her daughter being homesick or overwhelmed, Maureen said the school does a lot to help freshmen get acclimated to their new environment.

“When I went to college, my brother dropped me off and that was it—I was alone in my dorm for like a week. I bawled my eyes out,” she said. “But now, the school has a week orientation before classes even start. I think that’ll help Maggie adjust.”

Maureen knows she’ll be a mess for a while, probably months after she drops her daughter off.

“I’ve talked to friends on how they handled this, but I’m sure I’ll be texting her at 3 a.m.,” she confesses. “Once I know Maggie is content…making friends…getting involved on campus, then I’ll feel better. I hope.”

To find out more about Skype, visit http://www.skype.com/intl/en-us/home or http://about.skype.com/.