As the weather cools and leaves start to change, kids are back in school and the evenings seem to grow longer. Yes, your college freshman has launched, and the transition may have left you and your family feeling empty. Your young adult might be due for a little TLC and a thoughtfully curated care package from home. The truth is transitions are hard. Whether we are young or we are old, we cannot protect ourselves from hard things. Today, this might feel like risky business for both parents and teens. It signals a clear disruption to what has been the status quo, and yet it’s life’s inevitable way of inviting parents to step back, so young adults can step forward, regardless of how prepared they feel. Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshman Students at Stanford University, observes, “Each year, more and more students arrived on campus with an impressive list of accomplishments, but no sense of independence. They had grown up with parents who protected them from failure, made their choices for them, and solved all their problems.” With this in mind, what do we pack inside a care package coming from home? Aside from new earbuds, microwave popcorn, and cookies, what if we consider tossing in a large dose of compassionate listening and a new level of support?
Let’s start packing:
1. Create the Container: Define responsibilities, expectations, and have a clear understanding of what a positive college experience means. Openly discuss a financial budget. Have a clear and honest conversation about what success looks like for each of you.
2. Get Good at Asking Open-ended, Genuine Questions: Find ones driven by pure curiosity and no hidden agenda related to grades, accomplishment, what happened last night, or if they ate three square meals that day.
3. When You Get “The Call”, Wait: Pause. Every freshman has a panic moment and it’s important as parents that we keep our own emotions in check. Our kids need stability and our sense of reason.
4. Focus the Momentum Forward: When you feel ready to respond to your child’s struggle or challenge, stay neutral and ask open-ended questions. Start with empathy and acknowledge their feelings—“This seems hard. Yes, you are in a tough spot.” Next, help them recognize their competence—“When have you been in a situation like this before? What helped you then? Who or what are some other resources you have that you can lean on?” Finally, snap them out of a spin cycle and shift the conversation toward the future—“What seems like an easy first step toward success/completion/resolve?” What do you need to do to make that happen?”
5. Understand Transitions are Cyclical: Nothing lasts forever, including the drama that comes with first-year college hiccups. Help your child recognize that they are in the driver’s seat, that they have both control and options.
6. Let Silence Do the Heavy Lifting. Get comfortable with holding a quiet space in between the upsets and emotion to allow your young adult to take a breath and re-center on their own.
7. Step Back. It’s their turn now. Get out of their way. Get out of your way too. Let the real world be their teacher.
Ultimately, it’s important as parents to recognize the end game to launch independent young adults who will contribute to the greater good. As we begin to pack both their emotional and physical care packages, let's include the wisdom that the best way for us to care for our kids in this new phase is to step back so they can step forward. SueCarmodyCoaching.com