5 Ways to Stay Connected with your College Kid

We all know the dangers of helicoptering and over-parenting, but just how does a parent stay appropriately connected with a college kid who’s living away from home for the first time?

We’re starting our fourth year of having our three oldest kids away at school, and we’ve found a balance of communication and involvement that works for us. It’s certainly way more communication than what I had with my parents when I was in college (which was practically nothing), but it’s also not every single day (or multiple times a day — which is apparently what some people are doing). We do not keep track of our kids’ day-to-day assignments, grades, or activities. And we’re definitely not calling or emailing any professors. But we are available with a listening ear when they face the normal struggles that all young adults face or have some fun news to share.

Transitioning from the day-to-day relationship of living in the same house to being far apart can be challenging as a parent. You’ll have to make decisions about whether to initiate communication or wait for your child to contact you. You’ll also need to know when to direct your child to the college’s resources instead of jumping in to help directly (usually not a good idea).  Your parent-child relationship definitely will go through a transition, but it can be a positive one that leads to an independent, responsible adult at the end of the college tunnel, if you manage it well.

Here’s what my husband and I have done to stay connected with our kids who are away at school:

  1. We have a private, closed family Facebook group where we post pictures, announcements, messages, whatever. We don’t always use it, but when we do, we have found that it’s a fun place for us to connect.
  1. Texts are, of course, a no-brainer and what a lot of us are accustomed to with our kids. Once they’re away, it’s fun to send an occasional encouraging note, quote, or funny picture, just to let them know you’re thinking about them. No strings attached and no response needed!
  1. The first year, especially, I sent cards and letters quite a bit. It’s still fun for kids to get “real” mail. I also sent packages: a box of delicious pears from Harry and David was among their favorites. When I come across something fun or that we like at home – like dark chocolate covered almonds from Trader Joe’s – I put them in a little package and send them off with a note.
  1. I usually wait for the kids to call or Facetime me, but if I need to talk with them, I’ll text and ask them to call when they have time. They’re so busy with classes, sports, dinners, etc., that it’s easier to talk with them on their schedules when they have some free time and a quiet place (or, in the case of my oldest daughter, when walking between classes).
  1. Our kids communicate with each other separately from their communication with us, and I love that they stay connected. My husband and I encourage our kids who are still at home to reach out and have their own communication with their away-from-home sibling(s).

Those are just a few ways to stay connected and close without smothering your college kid. Know that they will call and text more frequently when they are going through something hard, so don’t think that their state of mind during the call is a constant thing. Often, they save their worst for the call to mom or dad, and it’s not as bad as they are making it sound. My mom also gave me some great advice when she told me that kids don’t really want your advice or opinion (and definitely not your “I told you so”). They just need a safe place to vent and clarify their thoughts. So, be there for them and give them a comforting place to call, and also let them know you have confidence that they will figure out how to solve their own problem.

Also, resist the urge to call and text them morning, noon, and night. They need to launch into their adult life, and it’s hard for them to do that when they’re getting your instructions on how to make every move.

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