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Information for Parents

Parents, should you be concerned about the mental health of your son or daughter, please feel free to contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at the University of the Pacific . Our staff members are happy to talk about your concerns and we can describe the services that are available for your children. We may be reached at 209.946.2315 ext. 2.  For further information, see When to Refer a Student.

When college students come home

It may seem like yesterday you were helping your son or daughter move in a residence hall or apartment. Maybe you were worried and offered a prayer to the powers that be for your child to have a successful semester. Now the semester is coming to an end and a new challenge faces you; he or she is coming home.

For most families the return of a student for the holidays can be a fun time to catch up on what everyone has been doing and to admire how your son or daughter is becoming more independent and mature. For some families, however, the holidays can become difficult times with parents and children fighting about control and respect. Children may want the same independence they had at school and parents may want the same dependence the children had in high school. Each may see the others demand as unreasonable and disrespectful.

Hopefully, college students and parents will keep in mind that holidays are about family and not who has the power. Each should be open to making changes in their plans for the holiday to maintain the connections of family. Here is a short list of recommendations for college students and their families:

Recommendations for parents:

If you want to be seen as an admirable parent, act like one. Greeting your son or daughter at the door with a list of rules, demands, or criticisms are not admirable behaviors.

Understand that while you are important, you have always been there for your sons and daughters, so it is natural for them to want to see friends first. Don't get in the way of visits with friends, but let your son or daughter know you want to spend time with them too. You might even plan a meal or activity that includes friends.

Don't think the old rules need to stay in place, and try to avoid the temptation to pamper or baby your sons and daughters. If you clean up after them they will come to expect it. True, they may need a day or two to unwind and catch up on sleep, but they are more mature now so let them show off. There is nothing wrong with a curfew, but talk about it first. If you did a good job raising them, then they will be able to handle bigger responsibilities. One suggestion is to skip the curfew time but ask that they let you know where they will be and have them call if they change their plans. Your son or daughter cannot grow up if you keep a tight leash.

Understand that from this point on your relationship with your children should be based on mutual respect, not control. Your children are most likely worried that you think they are not mature, and they may have annoying ways of showing you they can handle themselves. Respect them and show them they turned out okay.

All children will seem a bit different when they come home, but severe changes could indicate that something is wrong. Find a quiet time to talk with your child, tell him or her what you are seeing that is different and ask what has happened over the semester. Your son or daughter may think he or she should handle problems without your help. None of us get through life on our own. Even parents need to talk to their parents. Keep your questions short; don't ask for details just help your son or daughter get the words out.

For parents and college students:

Take some time before everyone gets together in the same room and think about what you want to do over the holidays. Don't try to plan it all at once, but take a nice, calm, and slow start at hearing what everyone wants to do. You might want to sit down with some snacks, or a meal, and make some lists of all the possibilities and options, take a break, finish the meal, and then come back to the list later on.

Be sure to plan some time when everyone is together and do plan some time to be apart. Mom and Dad need their husband and wife time, sons and daughters need their time with friends. Everyone could probably use some private time too.

We have talked a bit about coming home, so we should probably talk some about going back to school. Leaving for college can stir up strong emotions of excitement and sadness. Parents and kids alike may have trouble saying good-bye. It is hard for a son or daughter to be excited about being in college if Mom or Dad is sobbing at the door as the car pulls out of the drive. But kids do like to know they are missed. This is a good time for families to start giving hugs if they have not done so before. Your son or daughter needs to know you admire them no matter how old he or she is. All of us are more willing to take risks if we know we have a safety net. Parents have been and may continue to be the safety net for children in college, but guess what, college students can now begin to be safety nets for parents.

This is a time of great excitement and anxiety for parents and college students. Celebrate both emotions; they go well together.

adapted from the Counseling and Testing Center, WKU, 2006