College is the beginning of new opportunities, relationships, and identities. In college, a child is in a transition process. They still rely on their parents and need guidance, but they are starting to find out what it means to be on their own, make friends, get a job, make career choices, and decide how they want to live. It can be a hard time for parents, because while they want their child to succeed and thrive, they don’t want to let go. They want to protect them and guide them, when sometimes, the best thing for their child might be letting them make mistakes. Here are some ways to develop an adult relationship with your college-age child.
1. Allow your child the freedom to make choices, even if you think it’s the wrong one.
When a child is able to make a choice for themselves, it lets them know you respect them as an adult. This freedom and respect gives them confidence. Even if they make some mistakes, they will begin learning and be able to own their actions. Parents should sit down with their college student after graduation and discuss what choices are non-negotiable if they want their parents support. They can be advised that they can choose to do whatever they want without their parents support.
2. Allow them to fail.
As a parent, your role is to love and guide your child, and teach them how to live. Sometimes the best lesson is a good old-fashioned failure. So, allow them to fail, and be there for them to help them make sense of it.
3. Assure your child that it’s their life they are planning.
College is a time for the child to detach from their parents and make their own way. They must start to self-manage. They are growing and changing, and they begin to form and recognize their own identity. Encourage them and help them know it’s OK to separate from you and even go a different way. College is a time to experiment and have new experiences.
4. Give them unconditional love.
Most importantly, love them. Something your child will always need is your unconditional love and support. No matter if they fail or succeed, are sad or happy, love them. They need to know that even when they make mistakes or set boundaries, they don’t have to fear the loss of your love. Help them to understand that there are consequences, but that that isn’t the same thing as you not loving them.
At this time in your child’s life, the key words are guidance and compromise. Along with these tips, an open dialogue with your child is crucial. Be open with them, and let them know you are someone they can come to. It can be a difficult transition, but it doesn’t have to be impossible, it just requires teamwork.
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Author: Mayeling Angelastro, MA is an Orlando Winter Park Bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor providing help to couples, families, couples, children and teenagers with offices in Winter Park and East Orlando. (407) 248-0030
Co-author: Madelyn Bodi