Your student is getting ready to head off to university. That means big changes for them and for you. Fortunately, you can help to ease the transition by having these seven conversations, starting right now.
Your student needs to be clear about who is paying for what and where that money is going to come from. That means helping your student to set a budget and being clear about your financial expectations. For example, you might expect your student to contribute to the cost of their education by seeking summer employment, to assume responsibility for paying tuition fees on time, and to use their credit card responsibly). Understand and accept the fact that there will be the odd financial misstep: it’s part of the process of learning how to manage money. The good news? You can limit the financial fallout by talking through these important issues upfront.
2. Academic expectations
Help your student to understand how university is different from high school and make sure they’re clear about their academic responsibilities. At the university level, students are in charge of managing deadlines, familiarizing themselves with academic rules and procedures, and seeking out help if they are experiencing difficulty. Your student needs to know that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that there are all kinds of places they can turn for support if they are having a tough time.
TIP: Encourage your student to stay on top of important communications from the university by checking their Trentu.ca e-mail account on a daily basis. This is the address we will be using to communicate important information about academic regulations, important deadlines, and other need-to-know information, including emergency alerts. You’ll want to ensure that they receive and can act on important messages in a timely manner.
3. Living arrangements
Help your student to zero in on the living arrangement that is likely to the best fit for them, whether that means living on-campus, living off-campus, or living at home. If they decide to continue living at home, be sure to talk through your expectations of one another. It’s important to find a balance between your needs and your student’s needs.
4. Time Management
Encourage your student to start thinking about how they are going to make sense of all the competing demands on their time. It’s easy to get over-scheduled when there are so many fun and exciting things to do, both on and off campus, but it’s important for your student to be realistic about just how much they have time to take on, including hours worked at a part-time job. Most first-year students find that they need to spend an average of two or three hours on homework for every hour they actually spend in the classroom. In other words, an academic schedule showing 10 hours of lectures means another 20 to 30 hours each week spent on studying. This is why most academic advisors recommend that university students limit the hours worked at part-time jobs to a maximum of ten hours per week. Your student needs to have enough time for school, work, fun, and leading a healthy lifestyle (which means practicing stress management, making time to be physically active, and preparing and eating healthy meals). By the way, you’ll also want to encourage your student to make time for extra-curricular activities (as opposed to treating these activities like unnecessary frills). Being involved in activities beyond the classroom will give your student the opportunity to develop so-called “soft skills” like leadership and teamwork—the kinds of skills that employers love and that will serve your student well at job-search time.
5. Staying Connected
Encourage your student to be upfront about how much contact they plan to have with you while they’re at school and, at the same time, be upfront about how much contact you hope to have with them. Be sure to talk about both the frequency of communication (how often you’ll talk) and the mode of communication (whether those conversations will take place by phone or text message, for example), and how the two of you can get in touch with one another quickly in the event of an emergency. The goal is to strike a balance between your student’s need to be more independent and your need to know that they’re okay and to feel confident that you can connect with them quickly, if you need to.
6. Managing Worry
It’s normal to worry when someone you care about is venturing into uncharted territory—and it’s possible to find ways to manage that worry. It can be as simple as letting your student know how important it is to you that they check in with you on a regular basis while also letting them know that you understand that they’re going to be spreading their wings a little (and that you want that for them, too). There’s no magic wand that can erase all the parental worry, but having this particular conversation should at least help to make it a little more manageable.
7. Troubleshooting Conflict
Problems can and do happen in relationships; conflict is more likely to occur when people and circumstances are going through a period of change. Talking through minor problems before they have a chance to snowball into bigger problems and committing to treating one another with respect will go a long way to minimizing conflict. You’ll find some additional communications tips below.
- Validate your student’s emotions and experiences. Let them know that what they are feeling and experiencing makes sense.
- Practice active listening. Ask open-ended questions that spark conversation and give your student the opportunity to open up to you. Then paraphrase what they have told you to confirm that you’ve understood what they’ve said (“So what I’m hearing is....”).
- Resist the temptation to pry, to offer unsolicited advice, or to rush in to solve your student’s problems. Instead, focus on empowering your student and expressing your confidence in their ability to make good decisions for themselves. Instead of trying to control or dictate your student’s choices, aim to act as a guide or a mentor.