CAO Offers:Advice for parents as college is an emotional journey for them too
A child's move to third level is a major life transition that presents challenges for parents too. As their children grow into adulthood, parents have to adapt to the new order and give space and support to allow - indeed, encourage - them to develop independence, whether that's taking on their own shopping, cooking and laundry or coming home with more challenging opinions.
At NUI Galway, we meet with parents of first year students to discuss how they can prepare for the changes in the relationship, and here is some of the advice we share:
- Offer guidance instead of directives. Give assistance or reassurance as your student pursues new interests and passions.
- Even if you have already laid a foundation of values, re-discuss these expectations, especially about sex, drugs and alcohol, as well academic goals and financial accountability.
- Academically, reassure them that they can do it or they wouldn't be in college in the first place. One of the biggest differences between school and university is that they will have to work out their own routines and manage their own schedules. Good time management skills are a great stress preventer!
- If your son or daughter will be studying in NUI Galway, encourage them to avail of the free 'Smart Study, Smart Life' programme, which provides skills training in all the personal and academic areas, including stress management, mindfulness, time management, resilience and academic presentation skills. Most other universities offer a similar wellness programme.
- Stress is one of the main factors affecting academic performance. Some stress can be prevented, but not all stress is avoidable, so it's important to help students learn to cope with it effectively, through regular exercise, healthy nutrition, meditation and fun social activities: 80/20 is a good rule for success. If 80pc of the time, they are reasonably healthy and wise, they can afford to (and need to) have fun the rest of the time!
- Stay connected. Whether it's by email, text or a phone call, when you communicate let your student know that you are still there for them. Work out an informal agreement as to how often you expect contact from them, and in what circumstances and how often you will contact them.
- If your student is continuing to live at home, you may need to renegotiate house rules and expectations. Be flexible and find a compromise.
- Ask how things are going, spend time listening, offer support and show you care.
- Allow for mistakes. It's important to realise that mistakes will be made and that it is part of the growing process. Encourage them to seek appropriate help from the university supports and services. Colleges have student counselling services on campus that can help a student to resolve issues early.
- It is normal for students to feel a bit overwhelmed by the demands of college life, or feel homesick or lonely at first. Allow time for a student to move through this transition and to settle. However, monitor the situation and if the unhappiness persists, encourage them to talk to you or to a college counsellor to explore their difficulties before making a decision to leave.
- Be aware of any unusual behaviour and initiate discussion about it and/or recommend that they seek support on campus if the behaviours persist or worsen. This is a time of experimentation for young people, which for some can escalate into self-sabotaging patterns with regard to alcohol or drugs.
- Excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs is often associated with academic and personal difficulties, and early intervention can assist a student to make a successful progression through college.
- Encourage your student to share the enjoyment as well as the challenges of this new, exciting and sometimes scary transition.
Geraldine Connolly is Head of Student Counselling at NUI Galway