At Harvey Mudd, we understand that having your child begin his or her university career can be a stressful experience for you, especially if your son or daughter hasn’t lived away from home before. During this important time of transition for the family, many parents put their own feelings and reactions on hold while helping their child prepare for university life. Attending to your own emotional needs as well as your child’s will go a long way toward helping everyone feel comfortable with the challenges that going to college represents. We would like to offer some suggestions that might help you with this new transition.
Supporting My Child From a Distance
- Stay in touch! Be clear about your expectations, and at the same time be willing to negotiate with your child regarding the extent of contact that both of you would like to maintain.
- Allow space for your child to set the agenda for some of your conversations. If your child needs support or has a concern, the subject is more likely to come up if you ask some general questions regarding how she is doing rather than inquiring pointedly about what time she came home last night.
- Be tolerant of the adjustment and separation process. Try to be supportive and accepting of who your child is and where he is at in his development.
- Be flexible and willing to encourage your child’s decision‐making process. Work on establishing a more adult rapport with your child.
- Be a resource for your child, and also encourage your child to take advantage of the wealth of resources available for students.
Surviving Empty Nest Syndrome
What is it? Empty nest syndrome can be described as a parental/familial response (sometimes maladaptive) to the experience of family life after the children have grown up and moved on to college, work, marriage or their own independent lives. It is usually stimulated by one’s reactions of loss. For parents, this can be a time of experiencing a wide array of thoughts, feelings and emotional reactions. Some experience joy, fulfillment and relief, while others feel loneliness and anxiety or a mixture of both good and bad feelings. These feelings are natural and there is an adjustment process for parents.
- Recognize that feelings of ambivalence about your child’s leaving home are normal.
- Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up, and find a support system with others to share the experience. Spend some time with your significant other, friends or partner, especially during the first few months after your child has entered college.
- Make “overall wellness” a goal for yourself, since transitions can often be stressful. Exercise, get enough sleep and eat regularly. If you are feeling good, you are more likely to have the energy to help your child with his or her transition.
- Find a new creative outlet for yourself. Do some things you’ve always wanted to do but never had time. Find a new hobby, pick up an old interest or establish new goals.
- Give yourself praise! Be proud of doing your best as a parent, and trust your child.
Phases of First-Year Adjustment
Many students go through various phases of transitions during their first year in college. Below are descriptions of each phase and suggestions on how to support your child during each stage.
1. Honeymoon Phase
During the honeymoon phase, students are filled with all sorts of emotions ranging from the excitement of being in college and meeting new people to homesickness and loneliness. Below are some typical transitional stresses your students may be going through:
- Initial homesickness; not having immediate support; letting go
- Getting used to a new place
- Sharing private space with a roommate
- Doing laundry and other unfamiliar chores for the first time
- Setting up room, bank accounts; getting email access, books
- Meeting new people; not belonging/fitting in
- Being alone and away from parents for the first time
- Making first impressions
- Stay in touch! Make sure you and your child understand how often and when to call based upon a mutual agreement. Decide which mode of communication will be easiest for both of you—email or cell phone? Be flexible with your child’s schedule during the first couple of weeks, as there may be many activities and schedule changes during this time.
- You may want to send a care package or card in the first month. This could include quarters for laundry, photos, homemade cookies or whatever else you feel would encourage your child.
- Try to listen to his feelings and experiences, including social and academic concerns.
2. End of Honeymoon
The end of the honeymoon phase usually entails hitting the “Mudd academic reality.” Harvey Mudd is unlike many other colleges in terms of its academic rigor and work demands. Students often struggle with the following:
- Responsibilities of being a college student: Is your child prepared? Is he or she waking up for class, meeting deadlines, completing homework assignments?
- Schedule changes; making their own decisions and rules about their life
- Loss of self esteem; going from being the top of the class to being average and not getting the grades they want
- Challenges of the work load: “Not enough time to get homework completed!”
- Moving from being an independent worker toward working collaboratively in teams and study groups
- Developing new study skills that are appropriate to Mudd and different from high school
- Fear about receiving low grades and disappointing parents
- Social challenges
- Pressure to feel connected to others
- Learning to deal with roommate/suite-mates
- Making decisions about alcohol, social activities, dating and extracurricular involvement
- Listen and encourage your student to take advantage of the academic excellence program, the writing center, study groups and professors’ office hours.
3. The Grass Is Always Greener
It is not uncommon for students to doubt and wonder if they are a right fit for Harvey Mudd or if Harvey Mudd is the right college for them. Many students begin to wonder if they would be happier if they had gone to a different school. Thus, for some students the feelings of homesickness may intensify during this time.
- Understand your child’s ambivalence/expectations/disappointments. Listen and encourage him to be patient.
- Check in with her more consistently during this time so she doesn’t feel abandoned.
- Encourage him to speak with proctors, an academic dean or faculty members.
4. You Can’t Go Home Again
Students may feel different once they return for fall break or the holidays. They may feel that their parents don’t fully understand their experiences. They may not share their college experiences if they have not been positive. They may also feel distant or disconnected with their friends from high school. They may feel that they don’t have a place they can fully call “home.”
- Check in with your child after weekend visits and after each break.
- Be understanding and patient with her. Know she is absorbing a lot of new information and adapting to changes during this time.
- Connect him to his proctors or the Office of the Dean of Students to inquire about activities on or off campus that are available to him during breaks, should he need to remain on campus.
5. Initial Coping Behavior
Some positive coping behaviors and healthy adjustments are involvement in the college community, general optimism and enthusiasm, building new relationships, maintaining adequate sleep and nutrition and engagement with academic work.
Poor coping behavior and signs of difficulty in adjustment include loss of interest in activities, avoiding others, isolating, sleeping in, skipping classes and assignments, drinking excessively, feeling hopelessness, increase of anxiety and not replying to messages from home.
- Ask questions: “I noticed________ behavior, and I am wondering/ concerned about____________?”
- Listen for what your child truly needs. Allow him to be able to struggle, and assist him in brainstorming ideas to get the help he needs.
- Refer her to the associate dean of the Office of Health and Wellness, or Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services. Contact the dean of students office to inform the administration of your concerns.
6. Renewed Fear of Failure
Toward the end of the semester or year, there may be a renewed sense of fear of not being able to pass courses, especially if your child has been struggling or procrastinating.
- Reassure and comfort your child. Assist her in focusing on her previous successes and strengths.
- Encourage your child to go to study sessions, tutors, peers and professors.
- Encourage him to speak to the academic dean if he needs to drop any courses.
Putting It All Together
It generally takes students about a semester to put everything together, such as balancing their time, priorities and goals and developing realistic expectations about their college experience.
- Affirm your child’s progress and continue to give her space to grow independently. Check in with her less frequently, but let her know you are still available as a resource.