STUDENTS AND TRANSITION – A DEVELOPMENTAL PERSPECTIVE
In the simplest terms, transition is change. Transitions, even happy, expected ones, can be stressful and produce mixed feelings. Attending college is a normal transition in life. It is also one of the biggest. Even though you and your sons or daughters have been expecting this change, this moment probably feels bittersweet.
Transition is also a process. During this process your sons and daughters are transitioning from their family home as they continue to develop their own perspectives, feelings, and ideas. During this process, you and they will undoubtedly feel a shift in how you relate to one another. It can be difficult to understand this shift in relating and to know what to do and say in order to move through this process more smoothly.
Research tells us that how well students adjust to college is greatly impacted by their ability to manage stress. It also tells us that students who feel supported, feel less stressed.
What can you as parents do to help yours sons and daughters feel supported and less stressed during this time of adjustment and transition?
Ultimately our goal is to guide your sons and daughters and our students, in such a way, that they will begin to manage negative emotions independently and implement strategies for managing emotions.
As I mentioned, you will feel a shift in how you and your college student relate. It'll take some time to develop the right balance between their developing need for independence and their simultaneous need for support and guidance. Students don't always know how much they can independently handle or how much support they will actually need.
Although you'll want to encourage self-reliance and independence, remind them that you are there if needed.
Check in via phone or e-mail, and send cards and care packages to let them know that you are thinking of him/her. It is important to maintain a healthy balance of communication, so as to allow them a sense of independence. For example, set up a regular time to talk on the phone weekly, or to chat online. Make sure they feel connected with the family by sharing events and activities at home.
Discuss with them how they will spend anniversaries, holidays, and other important dates. Give them the option of spending these dates at home with you or maintaining their normal routine at school. It is important that they feel that they are able to make the choice.
Support versus Intervention
Some college students will adjust and transition just fine...with minimal complaints or extra need for your support. Others will struggle. They will feel homesick, sad, lonely, angry and disillusioned by what they thought the college experience would be like in comparison to what they are actually experiencing.
You may get a phone call in the middle of the night with them telling you how sad or lonely they feel and your first instinct will be to rescue them; to have them come home ...but try to encourage them to not come home, for at least the first month. If they continue to struggle adjusting to college, beyond the first month, encourage them to stick it out through the semester. This is a time for adjustment and they will adjust. They may seem angry at you for not intervening, but know that the anger will subside and they will be thankful that you set that boundary and the expectation. Beyond anything else, it lets them know that you have confidence in them and in their ability to acclimate to a new environment, new people, and new expectations. Remind them regularly that help is available if they are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious. Point out that they can seek out help and support here on campus.
Having said all of this, "There are times when you should step in, but those times are limited. If they have a serious illness, or are severely depressed, or for some other reason are incapable of making appropriate decisions, please contact us here at Gordon College to discuss your concerns," Author Marjorie Savage, in her book You're On Your Own (But I'm Here if Your Need Me). However, we cannot pursue your college student. All counseling is voluntary and confidential, so if your child is over 18 we cannot even confirm whether your college student is in counseling with us or not.
Listen versus React
Encourage direct and open expression of feelings.
Ask open ended questions, like "what do you like about....your classes? the campus? your schedule?" "What don't you like?" "What could make it better?" If they do present a problem, throw questions back to them by asking what action might make sense and what college resources are available. After the conversation, give them about 24 hours to work on the problem before you check in to see how things went.
The goal is that students will realize that the situation will usually work itself out, or that they can deal with it on their own.
Guide versus Direct
In high school students had parents and teachers to remind them of their responsibilities and now they must balance responsibilities and set priorities for themselves.
Allow them to set and pursue their goals for college and the future. It is important that they handle some important decisions on their own, such as choosing a major and social activities. Encourage them to take responsibility for their everyday living, including managing finances and meeting deadlines.
Walk them through the pros and cons then offer them an opportunity to make a decision.
The goal is to help them build a sense of responsibility, independence and confidence in their abilities. They can figure it out, and if they can't, remind them that there are people here at Gordon who can help.