It is that time of year, again – the time when many of us are settling our kids into university and adapting to life with them living away from home. It is a challenging time, full of change and transition. It is an emotional time, both for us as parents, as well as for our kids adjusting to life on their own.

I just supported our youngest child into settling into his university dorm room, and it was an experience I did not know how to really prepare for. While we spoke a lot during his last year at home about the upcoming change, neither of us really knew what to expect. It is a different experience with every child. Having now gone through this three times, I have learnt a few things I feel are important to share.

Preparing your children for university:

  • Before they leave home, teach your children the basics of cooking. Knowing how to fry an egg, make an omelette, cook pasta and prepare a basic sauce, how to make soup, roast vegetables, etc. is important. This empowers students in knowing how to take care of themselves and develop their independence with confidence.
  • Teach your children how to do laundry – remind them the importance of separating colors. A 20-year-old will not be happy with pink bed sheets or ruining his favorite shirt.
  • Encourage your kids to pack important personal things from their bedrooms at home to decorate in their dorm rooms at university. Personalizing their space, making it feel familiar, cozy, warm, and inviting, will make a huge difference, especially if the rest of the family lives a continent away.
  • Before leaving your child at university on their own, make sure they have an emergency contact list. Knowing who to contact makes an important difference when they need help or support. Being proactive in regards to having the university health clinic, doctors office, dentist, hospital, and helpline, in addition to having all necessary family member telephone numbers (home, work, mobile), will save a lot of unnecessary stress when they need to access these services or people.
  • Don’t assume… while a lot of information is accessible on the university website and through their dorm, floor fellow, etc., don’t assume your child will know how to access it. Take the time to investigate services available and learn more about what your child ‘needs to know’ in their new environment. Sharing and discussing this together will support your child in taking the initiative to access further information and maximize opportunities.
  • Remind your kids you are only a phone call, email, snapchat, Whatsapp, Facetime, Facebook, Instagram away. Get familiar with social media, know what your child uses, and develop a more tech-savvy connection with them. This allows for more daily, quick, immediate contact, making you both feel closer.
  • Explore the surroundings of the university. As Expats, it is unlikely your child will be close to family or friends when they go off to university. Explore the university surroundings and discover shopping malls, supermarkets, cinemas, concert halls, sports centres, etc. We often forget, or do not even realize, that ‘local’ kids often go home on the weekends, making the dorms a very quiet and lonely place. Knowing alternative places to go and things to do can fill those otherwise quiet and very long days.
  • Be proactive in preparing your child for climate changes. If your child grew up in the tropics and goes off to university in a seasonal climate, make sure they have a sweater, coat, and boots before they need them. There is nothing worse than waking up to the season’s first snow and having only a T-shirt to wear.
  • Write a letter to your child and give it to them to take to university. Sharing how you feel about them, expressing your pride in their accomplishments, their commitment to education, the person they have grown and developed into, is very important. Tell your kids you love them and will always be there for them, regardless of how far apart you will be living, with them in university and you back at home.
  • Give your child family photos. Being surrounded by familiar faces in their dorm room often eases the initial homesickness, as it provides constant reminders that you are there in your own way.
  • Make sure that, if you tell your child they can call you day or night for whatever reason, you stick to this and pick up your phone and be there for them. This is a huge time of change for your child and they will need you. They will call – make sure you are there for them, because they may be lonely, homesick, ill, upset, frustrated or want to share a funny story, experience, etc.
  • Be mindful of time and space. Make sure when you bring your children to university that you give them the space they need to meet their roommates, floor fellows, etc., and they have the space they need to set up their rooms. This is often a delicate balance and we, as parents, can easily become overwhelmed with our own emotions and cling to our children during this period.
  • Make it a positive, fun and exciting time. It is a special time for both you and your child. Remind yourselves that you both are ready – you have discussed, planned and prepared all the things you could think of. You are not saying goodbye forever… our kids do come back for holidays, and often for the long summer breaks to work, do internships or just have the time with the family they need.

Expat-Teens-Talk-300Lastly, make sure both you and your child have access to the resources you need to support you through the tough days. Expat Teens Talk is full of relatable stories and experiences of change, and it is a wonderful resource to dip in and out of when you feel like you are the only one transitioning through expat changes.

Expat Teens Talk: Peers, Parents and Professionals offer support, advice and solutions in response to Expat Life Challenges as shared by Expat Teens

Dr. Lisa Pitman and Diana Smit

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