Dr. Jen Sincore holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a member of the FIU Counseling and Psychological Services team. In this article, Dr. Sincore shares advice to help parents encourage independence in their students as they transition to college life.
Life transitions – even exciting ones – can be difficult. The transition from high school to college is not just academic. It’s a shift in your student’s developmental role from late adolescence to early adulthood.
It’s confusing for your student and often for you. What does independence at this stage mean? How much support is too much? Or too little?
You’re not alone. Challenges of parenting a college student are universal. While there’s no playbook, there is help.
Avoid being the problem solver or rescuer. While that’s developmentally appropriate for children, you could rob your student of opportunities to learn independence and gain confidence in their own ability to navigate the demands of adulthood. But also try to avoid the opposite approach of “your problem, not mine.”
Adjust the way you communicate with your student. You might view your child through a lens of authority and say what they “should” do. Instead, converse with your student through a lens of support.
Remember that adulthood is not a destination. You don’t have everything figured out. It’s a lifelong process of growth through experience, acquiring new information and skills, and becoming resourceful in adapting to change.
Your goal is to support your student’s development and internalization of “adulting” skills including problem-solving, considering multiple viewpoints, and adapting when first, second, or third options don’t produce the desired results. How can you do this?
- Normalize that it’s okay to ask for help. Your student may believe that they are supposed to succeed without help from others. They may have trouble accepting help. Try to connect with them on this subject by sharing a personal anecdote.
For example, you could tell your student about the home improvement project you insisted on doing yourself. You realized you were in over your head and felt embarrassed. You didn’t want to ask for help, which felt like admitting defeat. However, once you called for help, you felt relieved and wished you had called sooner. Tell your student that you get it. It’s sometimes hard to accept help, but it’s important to know that all of us can use some help. The problem isn’t that we need help. Sometimes, the problem is that we are refusing help.
- Balance validating emotional hardship with gently nudging your student toward problem-solving. You could tell your student that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed right now and that this moment does not represent how things will always be. Ask what problem-solving options they have considered. Give your student an opportunity to articulate their thought process. Communicate your faith in their journey toward independence. Lay the groundwork for more collaborative discussion.
- Encourage acknowledging missteps and using them as learning opportunities. Your student likely doesn’t need help admonishing themselves for mistakes. They may have difficulty moving beyond acknowledgement of a misstep to more fruitful territory. You could help them see their missteps as an opportunity for data collection and growth, identifying alternative options for response in a similar situation in the future.
- Strike a balance between acknowledging what is working well and what may benefit from adjustment. You’ll acknowledge your student’s independent efforts and encourage expanding their problem-solving into new territory.
- Finally, familiarize your student with the amazing FIU resources at their disposal. Professionals are ready and available to help: