Screen readers: Two navigational links to follow.Skip to site navigation.Skip to page content.
Parent Times Online The University of Iowa
parents association
campus links
UI homepage

SUMMER, 2008


How to help your child adjust to college life...
and ease your own transition

Safety on campus

Residents reap rewards

Watered Down…but Not Out

Hawkeye birthday gifts and treats



The University of Iowa
How to help your child adjust to college life...and ease your own transition
A group of students walks across the Union bridge to the west part of the campus.
You may not think so now, but you’ll survive it. You’re dreading the day that you leave your child at college, and you may even get through it without tears. But once their waving figure disappears from your rearview mirror, you’ll still want to know how they’re doing, you’ll want to stay in touch. What can parents do to help their first-year students adjust to college?

Sit back and embrace your new role...

Part of the college experience is learning to become independent adults. For parents, that means learning to take a backseat.

“Parents need to give kids a chance to learn that their decisions have consequences,” says Carrie Kiser-Wacker, assistant to the director of University Housing. “Fortunately, in the residence halls they can learn that lesson with a safety net.”


What students need to know before arriving on campus

1. How to write a check and balance a checkbook.

2. How to use a credit card wisely and how to evaluate the myriad offers they’ll receive once they’re at school. (Student Credit and Money Management Services is a campus program that offers students free financial counseling.)

3. How to budget. If you give your student money, be clear about what it’s supposed to cover.

4. How to do laundry. Teach them to separate their darks and whites so they’ll avoid that first-wash-of-the-semester “pink glow.”

5. The importance of personal hygiene. Remind them that they’ll be buying their own deodorant and shampoo (and their friends will like them better if they do so regularly). Remind them to change their sheets more than once per semester.

6. The need to lock their doors. Students want to be trusting of their friends, but it’s important to always lock rooms, and to not let nonresidents into their residence halls after hours.

7. How to be assertive in communicating. Your student will run into situations where they’ll feel pressure—a group of students is going to the bars, or a roommate is staying up late and listening to loud music. Help them think about their choices and how to be assertive in communicating those choices.

8. How to be responsible consumers of their education. Encourage them to ask for academic and emotional support—there are lots of people at the University who want to provide assistance and numerous services available, including sessions on study skills, meetings with academic advisors, and visits with professors during office hours.

That safety net includes a professional, experienced staff as well as carefully selected and trained resident assistants (RAs).

...but keep the radar running

Each student meets with an academic advisor who will help with negotiating academic requirements and choices, and professors and teaching assistants can answer questions during established office hours throughout the semester. Parents should note some red flags, however, says Sam Cochran, director of University Counseling Service.

“I’d watch for things like falling behind in school work,” Cochran says. “Or if students seem to have a negative spin on the entire experience—‘I don’t like my classes, my professors are unfair, I hate my roommate’—or if they feel sad about returning to the residence hall and their friends here. These could be warning signs.”

Rest assured, too, that residence hall staff members are keeping tabs on your student. They are trained to identify warning signs—and also to ease homesickness. Beginning with the first floor meeting and throughout the semester, resident assistants (RAs) encourage students to take part in activities designed to help them get to know students in their residence hall and to learn about the resources and special-interest groups on campus.

Teach your student to respect others...

Prepare your student to be tolerant and respectful of others, and encourage him or her to establish ground rules with roommates for day-to-day living. And, although they may be tempted, parents should resist the urge to look up online profiles of their student’s roommates, say University Housing staff.

If students do call home with legitimate roommate complaints, be supportive but encourage them to seek out their RA, who can help them mediate conflicts. If problems continue, hall coordinators also can be consulted.

...but let your student work out problems

Learning to navigate life’s inevitable bumps and ruts is invaluable for students.

“Parents may have a tendency to want to fix everything, every complaint, every challenging situation,” says Debora Liddell, associate professor of counseling, rehabilitation, and student development in the College of Education.

“It’s difficult to control the impulse to bail out your kids, because that impulse comes from a deep and loving place. But I would encourage parents of college students to sit on that impulse for a while,” she adds.

“Rather than learning problem-solving, they learn, ‘Mom and Dad will bail me out.’ They need our confidence in their abilities. Whenever we fix their problems, we rob them of the opportunity to cash in on that confidence. Our children don’t quit needing us; they just need us in different ways.”

If there are problems in the residence halls, for example, there are procedures in place to remedy them.

Keep in touch!

One of the most helpful things is to share your expectations for communication before your student leaves.

“Let them know, for example, ‘I would like to hear from you once a week. Call me on Sunday night,’” says Kate Fitzgerald, assistant director for residence life in University Housing. “Parents worry, and having a plan to hear that familiar voice once a week helps.”

A weekly phone call works for many families, but each parent-child relationship is different, so work out a plan that fits your family’s needs. E-mail is convenient, and even snail mail has benefits.

“If you stand by the mailboxes and watch, you get a clear idea of what mail means to students,” Fitzgerald adds. “If parents want to make their kids’ day, send the occasional box of homemade cookies that they can share with their floor or just a note that lets them know you’re thinking of them. Students love technology, but they get very excited by U.S. mail.”

by Linzee Kull McCray



Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright The University of Iowa 2004. All rights reserved.

back to top

The University of Iowa University Relations Publications The University of Iowa University Relations Publications The University of Iowa