How to keep in touch with college kids
From the first minute you held your child in your arms, your life changed. No matter what your other roles in life have been, the role of parent is both all-encompassing and life-changing. Even the most enthusiastic of parents needs a break now and then and it’s likely you’ve wished for a little peace and quiet on more than one occasion during your child’s growing-up years.
When your child packs up his or her belongings and heads off to college, you might find yourself trying to fill a little more peace and quiet than you care to handle. The feelings of loss, loneliness and emptiness you experience are known as Empty Nest Syndrome. Parents whose main focus in life has been raising their child feel the pain of the mass exodus that occurs when college-bound children leave home every year around the month of August. Empty Nest Syndrome affects each parent differently and you may feel depressed, be at a loss to know how to fill your time and life, and deeply miss your child.
Staying in touch with your college-aged child can ease some of your pain but how you maintain contact is important to avoid coming across as an overbearing and controlling parent. College is often a young adult’s first taste of independence and freedom and your son or daughter may not appreciate feeling smothered by your attempts to stay close. If you want to continue to foster a close relationship with your college-aged child without being annoying and overbearing, here are some effective ways to stay in touch without holding onto the apron strings.
1. Talk about communication before the departure
Rather than assuming communication will just fall into place, sit down with your son or daughter before they leave for school. Talk about your expectations for communication. A scheduled phone call once each week seems to work best for most families. Agree on a day and time when your child will call and an alternate time in case the original time doesn’t work. If your normal phone time is Wednesday night at 8pm, be sure to schedule the alternate time for Tuesday so you’re not sitting by the phone Wednesday night, worrying about your child and why they haven’t called.
2. Use technology that fits you best
Phone calls aren’t always possible. Or maybe you or your child need contact in-between the weekly phone calls. Today’s technology provides many convenient options for a quick connection or additional chat. Consider sending a text or private Facebook message for brief messages. Use Skype to instant message or talk via the computer between phone calls. The addition of a webcam on both ends will allow you and your child to see each other as you chat. It’s probably best to reserve Facebook statuses and comments for your college-aged child to share with his or her friends.
3. Schedule extra contact as you would an appointment
The freedom that comes with independence often results in a busy school and social life for college kids. Don’t assume your child will be in the dorm to IM on Skype at the spur of the moment. Chances are your son or daughter has a class, study group, homework, is hanging out with new friends or going out on a date. Use text messages or email to plan in-between contact ahead of time. Doing so shows that you respect your child’s time and will allow your son or daughter to feel they share control over phone chats or IMing.
4. Say “I love you” with a care package
An email is nice and so is a phone call, but everyone enjoys getting something in the mail. Once a month send your college kid a care package containing their favorite homemade or store-bought cookies to enjoy with dorm mates. Add something seasonal, like warm, fuzzy socks for winter or some small holiday decorations to spruce up the dorm room. A care package can give your child a much-needed connection to home and is a thoughtful way to say “I’m thinking of you.”
5. You’ve got mail!
But not the email kind. Who doesn’t love to get letters or cards in the mail? Keep your child updated on what’s going on in the family or neighborhood with an occasional letter. Remember special days with a greeting card or just send a note to say “I love you.” A letter or card can be read and re-read at anytime and can serve as a pick-me-up during times of homesickness.
6. Click the “Send” button
Email allows you to send a longer note than you can fit into a text message without waiting for the post office to deliver a letter. Add pictures of the family and family pets to emails to brighten your child’s day and help them feel connected to home. Perk up the mood with an uplifting quote, silly cartoon or funny YouTube video added to the email. Save important or serious information for phone calls or face-to-face visits to avoid misunderstandings or stress.
7. Email certificates
Man cannot live on Ramen noodles alone and neither can your college-aged child. Purchase an online restaurant or grocery store certificate once in awhile and email it to your son or daughter. Your child will feel cared for and connected to you through the simple gesture.
8. Schedule a college town visit
Weekend visits at the college can be a bright spot in your child’s busy schedule but don’t just show up unexpectedly. During one of your weekly phone calls, tell your child you’d love to come and visit and ask which weekend would work for them. Show interest in your child’s new life by asking for a tour of the campus or surrounding town. Treat your son or daughter to a movie or dinner at their favorite local restaurant. Don’t overstay your welcome. You’re likely to be invited back for more visits if you’re respectful of your child’s desire to spend part of the weekend with friends.
9. Make the most of semester and holiday breaks
Holiday and semester breaks often mean your son or daughter is coming home for a few days or weeks. Capitalize on holiday breaks by continuing traditions your family has enjoyed for years. If your child is coming home over the summer, expect they will be busy working or socializing but ask to spend time together on vacation, taking short day trips or just hanging out at home. By the time a break from school arrives, your son or daughter is likely to be as excited to head home as you are to have them there.
10. Hidden messages
When it’s time to head back to college at the end of a break, saying goodbye can be difficult. Write a few short messages on a Post-It or in a notecard and hide the messages in your child’s suitcase. Stick a Post-It inside the pocket of a freshly washed pair of jeans or slip a note inside a textbook. Your hidden messages may not be found right away but are sure to illicit smiles when they’re discovered.