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Parents with kids who just started college can help ease transition for their kids, themselves

Lots of folks have heard the expression Helicopter Parents – the kind who look to keep close tabs on their activities in a controlling kind of way – but Joan McCool shared a newer term this week during Refresh Mondays about a similar type of parent with a Buffalo-esque moniker.

Snowplow Parents.

These parents look to bulldoze a path for their children in such a complete way that their children fail to learn life skills that will benefit them in the future.

“What we learn in college is we’re resilient. Students need love and caring, but don’t go overboard,” advised McCool, director of the SUNY Buffalo State Counseling Center and one among several experts who weighed in for Saturday’s WNY Refresh cover story on changes at home for parents when kids leave the nest for college.

The transition is a big one. “It’s kind of like saying good-bye to childhood,” McCool told the final Refresh Mondays audience of the summer season at The Buffalo NewsRoom at Canalside.

Parents have to let go, she said, adding, “I’ve found out how fantastic it can be to have adult children.”

She also shared tips about how to navigate the transition:

  1. Stay connected: It’s worth reaching out to your kids regularly during their college careers with words of encouragement, like “I’m proud of you.”
  2. Make your new “me time” count: With more time to spend on yourself, join a gym, take up a new hobby and travel. It’s also a good time to rekindle the romance with your spouse or partner.
  3. Hold on loosely: “In general, your kids will be able to handle things,” McCool said. They’ll have plenty of help on campus, including peers like trained orientation leaders and residential advisors, and professionals like professors, academic advisors and, if needed, mental health counselors. Despite the need for students to learn from their challenges, like all of us, “they need support,” the counseling director said. Parents can add to that with encouragement along the way, but their children and school support staff can take the lead when it comes to this transition.
  4. Connections made at school count: “Students who connect in the first few weeks are more likely to stay in college,” McCool said. The willingness of all students, including commuters, to attend campus social and special events and join clubs helps start and build those ties. Parents should encourage this.
  5. Encourage your kids to look forward: “I’ve told my kids to know the career development office,” McCool said. That will help with their next big transition – going to graduate school or landing a job. While pursuing a field of study, she also advised, “If you find something you love, generally you will be happy.”
  6. Encourage good daily habits: “Lots and lots of students I see are having sleep problems,” McCool said, because they keep their notification prompts on at night. Discourage that.

She underlined the delicate balance parents need to help with this transition, not run it, and that this will mean every person and family will need to find what works best for them.

“Help is always available,” McCool said, including counseling and other services for students who may struggle with anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide.

She referred parents and others to to read about signs that someone might be contemplating suicide and also said there is always a counselor available at Crisis Services, (716) 834-3131 for those in Erie County, and at a national number, (800) 273-TALK (8255), for anyone concerned about their behavior and feelings of those of a loved one.

Seeking help “is certainly not failure,” McCool said. “It’s one of the smartest things you can do.”


Twitter: @BNrefresh; @ScottBScanlon

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