5 Tips for a Healthy College Transition in the Age of Covid-19
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Leaving for college is an exciting and sometimes challenging transition for any new college student. Add a global pandemic into the mix, and those headed to college for the first time this fall are likely feeling an unusual level of uncertainty about what to expect. Students are beginning to think about new roommates, friends, dorm room decor, majors, and extracurricular activities. Most expect to experience some challenges as they begin this new chapter, but roommate and friendship problems, home-sickness, academic difficulties, and physical and mental health struggles may come as an unexpected surprise for many.
As much as our teenagers say they can’t wait to move-out and are ready to get on with the next big chapter, the reality is that leaving home for the first time can be difficult, and your child may be ill-prepared for the challenges that college life will surely bring. Research from the National Institutes of Health indicates rising rates of mental health and substance abuse problems in college students, and many of those individuals may go without receiving any treatment. Equipping our kids with skills, strategies, and access to local resources before heading off to school can help ease their anxiety and improve the likelihood of a smooth transition. For those students making the choice to begin college this fall, this becomes even more important given the continuing uncertainties about the pandemic and how it may impact a student’s housing, academics, extra-curricular activities, social, emotional and physical health.
After the global shut down that left high school seniors homebound and missing many of the traditional rites of passage, it is evident that these young people are resilient and adaptable and will continue to whether this storm and succeed regardless of what lies ahead. Here are 5 recommendations for how you can help prepare your student with strategies and resources for a healthy transition into the college years, even during this pandemic.
Encourage your student to talk about their expectations and fears before they leave. What are they most excited about? How do they feel about moving away from home? What are they the most afraid of? Your child needs to know that they can talk to you about their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Be a good listener, and ask first before offering advice. They may just need time to process everything. There’s a lot that they are thinking about. This is a great way to help them figure out what questions they may want to find answers to before leaving home.
Help them to feel empowered as young adults. Time management, organizational habits, self-care (quality sleep, nutrition, regular movement), and asking for help are important skills that will reduce stress and increase the likelihood of a positive transition. Guide your student as they brainstorm about resources and solutions that may support them in these areas. Encourage them to be proactive and get to know their professors and when they hold office hours. Suggest they locate campus services for academic, physical and mental health support. If you suspect your child begins to have difficulties that they are unable to figure out on their own, then it is ok to step in as needed. Listen to your gut. We want to encourage college students to solve problems independently and to feel capable of doing so, yet there may be some circumstances that require you as a parent to get more involved.
Once your child leaves for school, don’t hover. This is especially difficult in today’s world of text messaging and social media. We can stay connected to our college kids all of the time, but this is not what your child needs to begin to find their path at school. As a new college parent, I’ll admit this was a hard one for me. Reach out once in a while, but know that your child will contact you if they need something. They need that space to grow and figure things out on their own. When you do connect, assess how things are going by asking what they are learning in their classes and if they have connected with some new friends.
Send a care package! My daughter is less than 30 minutes from home, but she has still experienced some homesickness. Receiving a special treat in the mail is a fun reminder that they are loved and missed. My mom used to bake me chocolate chip cookies and mail them in a shoebox. My friends and I would gobble them up right away, and even though it’s been 30 years, I will always remember that special gesture.
Lastly, understand that success in college may come with some major bumps in the road. Part of the process of going to school includes exploring new interests, struggling through classes, dealing with difficult roommates, bombing a test or two, and in today’s world, navigating the uncertainties of a global pandemic. As much as we want our kids to ace all of their classes and enjoy a smooth ride, it is normal and healthy to experience challenges. Encourage and love them as they come to these bumps, guide them to find healthy solutions and helpful resources, and enjoy the process of watching them mature as independent, resilient, and responsible young adults.
This article is also featured in Waggle Family Magazine's Hometown Summer edition at https://www.wagglefamily.com