You’ve dropped off your freshman at college, and you are probably feeling excited that they are about to experience an amazing new chapter of their life. Then, you get the gut-wrenching text or call “I hate it here” or “I want to come home.” So many college freshmen go through struggles at the beginning of the school year, and a lot of times, being away from home can amplify their issues.
How parents can help their college students
1. Answer the phone when they call and be available to talk to them whenever they need it
If you can, answer whenever they call. One of the worst feelings as a college freshman is feeling upset and lonely and not having anyone to talk to. If you are busy, simply text and tell them when you can call them back. This at least reassures them that they will be able to talk to you soon.
2. Listen patiently
As a parent, it is important to just take a minute and really listen to what they are saying and why they “hate” college. Although it can be easy to interrupt and say, “that’s no big deal,” sometimes just having someone listen to us is so helpful. Although your child’s problem may seem like a small issue to you — I remember as a freshman calling my mom crying because I had a hole in my favorite pair of jeans — to a college freshman who is away at school and hasn’t made friends yet, one little problem can feel like it’s the end of the world. Just be there, listen, and then ask if they want advice.
While saying something like, “It can’t be that terrible” might seem helpful, it hurts to be dismissed like that. Try to remember what college was like when you went. Imagine what they are going through — they are in a new place where they may not have many friends, and it is probably the first time in their life they have moved to a new community on their own.
These are big changes for an eighteen-year-old, so they may feel overwhelmed, frightened, and stressed. Make sure your student understands that you will be there for them whenever they need to talk and that they can talk to you about anything.
4. Offer thoughtful advice, but only if they ask for it
Instead of just telling them what they should do in a situation, wait until they ask for your advice. Even though you are trying to help, giving advice can sometimes make the situation feel even more overwhelming.
Instead of telling them how they should have done something or what they need to do in the future wait until they ask, “What should I do?” or “How can I fix this?” Don’t minimize their problems, even if it is something silly like their roommate leaving their clothes on the floor or the dining hall didn’t have what they wanted. Small problems may feel 100 times worse during the beginning of college with your whole support system miles away.
5. Encourage your student to talk to the Resident Assistant
As a freshman, it can sometimes be intimidating to go and talk to the RA but doing so can be extremely helpful. When I was having a bad freshman experience, my RA showed me ways to become more involved at school and told me about several upcoming campus events that I had not heard about. The RA can also relate to them since they were a freshman themselves just a year or two ago and are specifically trained to give advice to students during their most difficult times in the dorms.
6. Send them a care package
Receiving a care package will make their entire day! Another great thing about care packages is if it has fun snacks or treats, they can share it with their friends. It can also be nice to include decorations for the fall season like fake mini pumpkins, a fall leaf garland, or candy corn!
7. Offer to plan a weekend that you can come to visit them
This gives your student something to look forward to! This is also a way for your student to take a break and get off of campus for a couple of days. When I was going through a rough time at the beginning of my freshman year, my mom planned a trip a couple of weeks out and this trip was tons of fun — we had a spa day, hung out at the pool of the hotel, tried out a few new restaurants, and went shopping.
8. Help them come up with a list of student organizations they can join
Coming up with a list of student organizations to join will help them to find friends on campus. Together on FaceTime, you and your student can look through the list of campus organizations that the university offers and write down all of the ones that look interesting. Suggest that your student writes down when and where each organization has its meetings and encourage your student to message the organization and get involved! Being involved with something on campus can make a huge difference in their freshman year.
9. Send them a virtual gift card for something they can do with a friend
This is a great way to get your student out of the dorms and they will have a reason to go somewhere with a friend! Some examples include a gift card to the local amusement park, a nail salon nearby, or their favorite restaurant. Make sure it is enough for them to take a friend with them! Even just a Starbucks gift card with $20 works — it just gives them a reason to get out of the dorms and go somewhere with a new acquaintance or friend.
10. Know that they will be okay
Almost every freshman struggles with adjusting to their new life away from home. For most students, it takes a few weeks or even a couple of months for them to fully enjoy being away at college. Don’t stress yourself out about it, because almost every freshman is going through the same thing that your child is going through to some degree.
More Great Reading:
Letter to My Freshman Self: Nine Regrets I Have From College