Helping Your College Student Living at Home: What Can You Do?

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Parents of students living at home face a unique set of issues.  In this article, we consider some things that parents can do to help make the experience a rewarding one for everyone involved.

 Recognizing that your college student living at home may have reservations about the experience and will face a unique set of issues is an important first step in helping your student make the most of the college experience.  Recognizing that your “letting go” process will be more complex with your student living at home will also help you to analyze the experience.  However, it is important that parents, and their college students, recognize that there are things that they can do to make this experience go smoothly – and ensure a rewarding four years.

 As a parent, what should you encourage your commuter student to do?

 Perhaps one of the most important steps is for you to recognize that you are now the parent of a college student, rather than a high school student, and that your relationship with your student should now change.  No longer as a caretaker, but rather as a coach, you can do much to encourage your student to gain independence by being active and involved in the college experience.  This may take a more conscious effort as a commuter. 

 Consider encouraging your student to do some of the following things:

  • Make a conscious effort to meet new people at school.  Maintain contact with high school friends, but reach out to make new college friends as well.  If other high school friends are also remaining at home, it is tempting to simply continue to socialize with them.  Encourage your student to expand her circle to include new people she meets at college.
  • Stay on campus between classes occasionally.  Spend some time “just hanging around” to get the feel of the college and to meet new people.
  • Do some studying at school – in the library, a lounge (does the school have a commuter lounge?), in the cafeteria or snack bar.  Again, this will allow opportunities to absorb the atmosphere, learn what is happening on campus, and meet people.
  • Get involved in activities and clubs on campus.  Be involved in college life.  College is about more than studying.  Students who do not live on campus are still able to participate in many organizations on campus.  This is an excellent way to meet other students with similar interests – and to expand horizons.
  • Form study groups for some classes.  Get together with others to study and support one another.
  • Be a “host” to show out-of-town students around the area.
  • Find other commuters on campus and make connections.  Perhaps carpools or other commuting arrangements could be made.
  • Consider a summer internship or study abroad opportunity to have a chance to live away from home for a time.

 What can you do at home to help your student adjust?

 Students who live at home during college need to make adjustments.  Parents of students living at home obviously need to adjust as well.  As parents, you can help your student ease the transition to the new college experience.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Schedule a meeting with your student to discuss the new arrangement.  Don’t just assume the status quo.  Talk about his expectations while living at home, and talk about your bottom line of comfort for his behavior.  Listen carefully to his hopes and dreams, as well as his concerns.  Make sure that both of you recognize that you are entering a new phase of your relationship – and living arrangements.
  • Address family expectations.  Will you expect your student to help with chores around the house?  Will he be expected to be home for meals – or let you know if he will not be home?  Will he help with younger siblings or elderly relatives?  Will he be paying you rent?  Will he have access to the family car?  Can he bring overnight guests home?  Are there household rules about drinking or smoking or boyfriends or girlfriends in the house? Does she need to let you know if she decides to stay overnight with a friend on campus?  The more that you can talk about before awkward situations arise, the more smoothly things will go later.
  • Don’t become a caretaker for your student, or if you have been, let him know that things will be different now.  Don’t wake him up in the morning, don’t make appointments for him, don’t do his laundry or his dishes or pay his bills. Don’t nag if he doesn’t seem to be doing a sufficient amount of studying.  Encourage him to function independently – and to take responsibility for his actions.
  • Help make studying at home possible.  Your college student will have more out-of-class work than in high school.  Make sure she has a quiet place to study – away from siblings, family TV, other intrusions.
  • Give your student privacy.
  • Suggest that your student consider rearranging her room to give her the feeling of a fresh start.  Can she consider repainting or redecorating?  As superficial as this may seem, it can help your student mentally prepare for a different life.
  • If your student rebels at family rules, remind her that college residence halls have rules, too.  There are policies about drinking, smoking, guests, quiet hours, etc. Even though she is in college, she would be held accountable for her actions – even if she lived on campus.  Remind her that as adults living in the same household, everyone needs to feel comfortable.  This may require some negotiating and compromising on everyone’s part.
  • In general, agree with your student on the common courtesy that adults afford each other.  Consider each other’s expectations and comfort level.  Encourage your student to think about picking up after herself, not leaving dirty dishes around, not making noise during the wee hours when others need to leave for work in the morning, or generally impacting others in the house.  Ask your student what you can do to help him feel like an adult living in the house.  You may be surprised, and pleased, to learn from him what it will take to help him feel respected as an adult and what he is willing to do to help you view him that way.

 Parents and adult children living in the same household face challenges.  But the experience can also be a wonderful, eye-opening time.  Both you and your college student will need to work at making adjustments, and there may be continual re-evaluating of decisions;  but once you have negotiated a comfortable life-style for everyone, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy knowing, and being with, this young adult.

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