Newswise — Parents dealing with separation anxiety as their children go off to college need to let go in phases and stages, advises Levester Johnson, vice president of student affairs at Butler University in Indianapolis.
“A generation ago, people like me used to advise parents to cut the cord,” Johnson said. “Let the students figure things out for themselves. But over the years, we’ve moderated our advice. We talk to parents about ‘the power of letting go.’”
Johnson suggests these methods to help parents cope:
• Keep the lines of communication open. It’s easy to stay in touch. Just don’t do it in an overly intrusive way. “We’ve all heard about helicopter parents – those parents who hover over their child’s every move,” he said. “I’ve actually heard of a student who would call her mother at dinnertime every day and say, ‘These are the options in the cafeteria. What should I eat?’ Part of college is developing the independence it will take to survive in the world.”
• An actual separation is as important as the physical separation. You want to hear how things are going, but you don’t necessarily want to hear everything. Let there be some independence and some privacy, but let your student know they can count on you.
• Maintain the same kind of communication you’ve had. If you talk by e-mail or Facebook or text message, keep it up. You won’t have as much face time, of course, but it’s good to check in.
• If your child has a problem at school, let him or her try to work it out. If there’s a roommate issue, for example, let your child deal with the people on campus who are there to help. Point them in the right direction but don’t make the call. Guide your student and let them experience the satisfaction of problem solving.
Many universities have special sessions to help parents who are having a hard time letting go, Johnson said.
Parents may want to stay connected through Parents Council and events such as Parents Weekend and Homecoming.
Johnson advises parents to avoid visiting campus regularly or encouraging their student to come home frequently.
“They need to be part of campus life and to learn basic life skills – like how to do their own laundry and establish a new group of friends,” he said.
One last point, he said: Make sure your student knows he or she is welcome home. Despite what TV commercials may tell you, the day you drop off your child at school, don’t rush out and turn their room into an office or family room.
“They want to feel connected,” he said, “just like you do.”
Dr. Levester Johnson, better known as L.J. on Butler University’s campus, became the vice president for student affairs in December 1997. The Milwaukee native joined Butler in 1992 as the assistant dean of students for residence education.
To find other Butler University experts, visit http://www.butler.edu/experts/.