A Different Kind of ‘College Prep’

As your family gets ready to send your college freshman off to school in the fall, the summer can quickly become filled with all the preparations leading up to that. Your teen may be spending her summer with peers, while dreaming of the fall and the start of the next chapter in her adventure. On the other hand, your time may be filled with to-do lists, setting up travel plans, remembering last minute details.  You are preparing to let your child, whom you have nurtured and protected for so long, to go live on her own for the very first time.

The flurry of activity around your departing teen can leave siblings a little disconnected. Despite your best efforts, it can be difficult to divide your attention equally. It’s important to keep in mind that siblings, particularly the younger ones, are having their own experience of this transition and the changes it will have on the family. Addressing those thoughts and feelings, holding space for needs and reactions to change, as well as pre-teaching to expectations can help bring your family together around its changing dynamic.

Creating space

Children thrive on structure and consistency, and often struggle with change. In the face of this major transition, you can provide an opportunity to experience a different kind of structure and consistency that will help make these new changes and challenges easier. Giving your younger children a place and a means to express their thoughts, feelings and fears about change throughout the summer is a good place to start.

This conversation about transition and change would be most effective if it were ongoing. One and done is not going to be helpful to your child over time. No matter how old your younger child is, their feelings are bound to be mixed and fluid. For example, a child might be excited to get her sibling’s room, but sad that her sister won’t be home late at night to talk about relationship problems or help with homework.

Planning specific ways to celebrate this transition is also helpful for creating natural and organic spaces for conversation. Creating ritual goes back to the whole notion of structure and consistency that is so helpful for children. Arrange weekly family time with your college-bound teen to create a sense of connection before he leaves for school. It’s important to acknowledge you are aware he has a full summer, but explain how extra time together can help his younger sibling work through and express any thoughts or feelings about his leaving.

Creating connection

Talk with your college freshman about what kind of contact she plans to have with the A Family Guide for Starting College, Naphtali Roberts, LMFTfamily, particularly her siblings, once she arrives at school. The type and frequency of contact with her siblings will depend upon their age. High school age children with freshman siblings will probably be better able to set expectations with too much parental support. In fact, with social media and texting, a lot of those expectations are probably already in place and older sibling will likely have a more seamless experience. Again, with younger children responding so favorably to structure and consistency, they will benefit from a more ritualized kind of interaction. This could mean setting up a specific time frame, like connecting via Facetime or Skype every two weeks on Tuesday evening, texting before bed on Friday nights, or sending a Snapchat story once a week. There is no right or wrong way to set up these kinds of interactions. The important part for younger children left behind their transitioning sibling is planning and consistency.

Ongoing conversation

Just like the course of pre-teaching and checking up leading to your college-bound teen leaving home, it’s important to keep up the communication with his younger siblings as time goes on. Just as the changes in family dynamics and experience of transition is an ongoing process for you, your child is going to have a similarly fluid experience and a great many responses and reactions to this major life transition in the months to come. Keeping the lines of communication open and being transparent with your child will help support her, as well as bring a sense of constancy and stability into your new family system.