Parents unpacking car for a move to college, Beijing

Preparing for Your First College Drop Off

As college drop-off day approaches, you and your teens are likely to wrestle with a wide range of emotions. On the one hand, you might struggle with anxiety, stress, sadness and worry about this next phase of your child’s life. Then, at other times, you might find that you are bursting with pride at all they have accomplished.

There’s no doubt that drop-off day can be hard on all of you. You won’t be around to help them with their problems, to ensure they are well-fed, to double-check they remember to study for an important test, to mandate a curfew, or to share a Friday movie night. Take a deep breath; it can be hard letting go.

But there’s good news: While it’s easy to feel utterly unprepared, there are many steps you can take to make the day easier. Here are a few things to note, and a few ways to make the day a little less hot, harried and hectic.

Be calm, confident and supportive

This is going to be a stressful and emotional day for all. Remember that they are excited, anxious and nervous about freshman year too. Be their calm. They will take their cues from you.  As exciting as going to college is, it can also be terrifying for our teens on that first day. If you can keep a Zen face on, it will help calm your freshman. Not feeling very Zen? Fake it.  Now is not the time to fall apart, bicker or lecture. Save that for when you get home—or at least for the car ride home!

Give them space

How is your son or daughter feeling? This isn’t unlike being calm and supportive, but the key here is to ask them what they are feeling. Giving them permission and acknowledging that this may be really hard and unsettling for them. The new space, a roommate they don’t know, a campus they are not at home in yet and setting up a new life is daunting. I remember asking my son if he was more nervous and excited and he said, “I’m 99% nervous!” That said, once we met the roommates and they went off to a few events together, it got much better. By the time we left, Tyler was all good; relaxed even.

Bring snacks

Yes, you need snacks to stock the dorm room, but that’s not what I mean here. Depending on the campus and location, parents might want to pack a few cold drinks and snacks—nothing like a “hangry” teen to make the day seem longer. After going up and down the same staircase a dozen times, a small cooler full of cold drinks will look like heaven. Bonus: Parents and students who show up with doughnuts easily make new friends.

Bring tools

Tools? That never entered my head. But my son’s roommate’s parents had done this before and they showed up like pros. You’ll need tape, masking tape, duct tape—lots of tape. Also hooks to put up to make more room in a small space. You’ll want markers, basic tools like a screwdriver, hammer and nails, paper towels and spray or wipes to use to clean things as you set the dorm room up. Pack extra batteries and extra-long sheets for the dorm-sized twin mattresses. A hand vacuum is a good idea as well.

One more item that is not on your typical dorm list: a doorstopper. The doorstopper allows you to keep the door open for air but also makes it easier to meet people or at least see them and say hi. Just seeing familiar faces in the halls will help settle your nerves and make you feel more comfortable.

Be organized, but expect to go shopping

If your teen has to fly to college, order all the dorm stuff online and either have it shipped to college, or order for pickup if there’s a place nearby. If you drive, pack in an organized manner—like hanging clothes on hangers so you can pop them right out of the car and into the small closet. Pack bedding last so you can access it right away—making the bed makes all the difference. A fan should be accessible as well—many dorms are not air-conditioned. If your teen is bringing bins or crates, pack them full—you can cover and tape them so stuff doesn’t fall out. Help your child set up but let them organize the room and take ownership—you’re there to help them hang things, make the bed and make a list as you go of items you’ve forgotten or didn’t know he needed. Then find the nearest Target or Bed Bath and Beyond and buy whatever you wrote down. Fairy lights? Maybe a rug? A container like a cube seat that opens and has storage—those are great.

Remember Amazon

It is hard not to feel daunted by the astounding list of items a college freshman might need. But no dorm room needs to be perfect on the first or second day. It is all too easy to forget that our kids can order anything they need/forgot after they are already on campus. Our kids can have Amazon Prime free for 6 months and get free, speedy shipping. So relax.  And, to be real, all they absolutely need other than sheets/sleeping stuff is a phone, laptop, prescription meds and a set of clean clothes.

Food, don’t forget food

Now I’m talking about stocking the dorm room, the mini-fridge and a little crate or two. I hate to break it to you, but at some point your kid will inevitably wake up late for am 8 a.m. class and won’t have time to grab something from the dining hall. There may even be a Saturday morning after a night out when she can’t drag herself out of bed before the dining hall’s breakfast hours end. Whatever the reason, it’s always a good idea to keep some easy breakfast items on hand. Grab some cereal, milk, yogurt, instant oatmeal, fruit and protein bars. Also lunch or nighttime snacks like chips and salsa or tortillas and shredded cheese; peanut butter and jelly; and staples like microwave popcorn, pretzels and some good old chocolate or ice cream. A care package every now and then would be seriously appreciated, just FYI.

Leave quickly and quietly

Colleges often tell parents to leave at a specific time so the kids can start meshing and bonding. They are right to do so, and no matter how hard it is, parents need to take that advice to heart. Like leaving your child at pre-school for the first time, the only way to disengage is to hand them over and take off fast without looking back. This time it’s likely you will be doing the clinging, not your teen; but either way, hug and run. Don’t have a long, tearful goodbye if you can help it. A few tears are ok—good luck not getting choked up—but do the real crying in the car on your way out.

You’ve said goodbye, now mean it

As tempting as it is to text or call and check-in, try to restrain yourself. Let your teen reach out to you first if you can. Put the phone down and let them have their space. Boundaries are important as is our kids’ need to separate. Now is a really important time for your child to establish an independent life and develop a new support network of others they can trust.

This is not forever

Before you know it, it will be Parent’s Weekend or Thanksgiving Break and you will see them and be able to hug them and ask all the questions you have. In fact, I have found the kids are home on break a lot. So whenever you feel like you will never see your child again, look at a calendar and remind yourself it won’t be long.

Of course it’s sad to let them go, but you’ve done your job. You raised your child well and they are ready for their own adventure. I find that although I miss my my kids when they are away, I also know they are where they’re supposed to be.

They’re happy and I take great heart in that.

This post first appeared on Parenting in Real Life. It has been reprinted with permission.

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