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Ready to Launch: How To Do College Drop Off Day Right

By Jane Parent

If you have a soon-to-be college freshman, you are counting the last few precious weeks until they’re leaving for college. You may have mixed feelings: excitement for this new beginning, with a little sadness or apprehension, too. Every parent, however, wants college drop off day to be the start of a successful college launch.

Here’s how parents can do drop off day—and the first few weeks—right.

sending your child to college: Drop Off Day

Advance preparation. Use these remaining weeks to talk about what your student can do to have a successful freshman year—for example, how to be a good roommate. “What I hear from many parents after they attend orientation during the summer is they wish they had begun preparing their kids earlier to be good roommates,” says Kimberly Sterritt, director of Parent & Family Programs at the University of Alabama. At home, start your student cleaning the bathroom, picking up their room, and consciously thinking about being considerate. “Students are often not very self-aware, and they may not realize what they do that drives other kids crazy.”

Communication. Before drop off day, agree on how you are going to communicate with each other. What will the method of communication be, phone call or text? How often should you expect to hear from them? “Talk about these expectations in advance,” advises Sterritt. “Sometimes it’s helpful to have a ‘Code Red’ amount of time where now it’s time that you need to hear from them. For some maybe it’s 3 days, for others maybe it’s 2 weeks.” Both parent and student should feel comfortable with what they decide.

If you received a copy of your student’s schedule at orientation, consider going through it with them. “Understand when they are and are not available,” Sterritt recommends. “It avoids a lot of stress and anxiety when you don’t hear from them right away.”

A Day to Celebrate

A positive attitude. When the big day comes, keep it positive. “Make sure this is a day that you are celebrating,” advises Sterritt. “Nervous energy can come off as anxiety or as excitement. Focus on the excitement aspect to help your student (and yourself) to cope with any anxiety.”

Don’t stay too long. Most colleges have a full schedule of activities for students’ first days on campus designed to help your student meet other freshmen. Students acclimate faster and make more friends when their parents are not there. Look at the schedule of activities as a natural time for you to split off from your child. “It’s very hard to make new friends with your parents standing right next to you. That means you should not be with them when they are at these meet-and-greet activities,” Sterritt says. “We will tell parents ‘Don’t be that set of parents’ that goes to all these freshman week activities with their student.”

Even if you are staying in a nearby hotel that first night, your student’s place is in the dorm and not with you. A hotel off campus isn’t the right place for them to make new friends.

Take a Step Back

Make plans to visit. Look for opportunities where it’s appropriate to come back to campus and get involved. Students with strong family support are more likely to get to graduation successfully. Make plans to come back for homecoming weekend, or to go to a football game. Do not come during midterms or before finals. Make transportation plans for the holidays before finals. “Do not text or call your student trying to make flight times when they are trying to prepare for finals, which they’ve never done before.”

Take a step back. Now that your child is in college, it’s time to adjust your parenting. “We encourage parents of college students to transition from the role of fixer to the role of a coach,” says Sterritt. “Learn to listen and understand when your child is merely venting versus wanting and needing some action from you. Your reaction and tone of voice when your student calls you upset or unhappy can go a long way to de-escalating a situation.”

You may hear from them a lot in the first days or first few weeks of college. When classes start and their routine starts to kick in, however, the frequency and method of communication may change as your student settles in. “Recognize that daily communication can’t continue. Give them space and time they need to make connections,” Sterritt recommends.

So how will you know when your new college freshman has successfully launched? “When they are leaving their room,” says Sterritt. “That is a good sign that all is going well with their transition to college. That means they are meeting other kids on their floor, going to class, connecting, and getting involved.”

Jane Parent

Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.