TTU counselors share advice with families in transition when first child goes to college

Every family member's life changes when a member of the household goes off to college for the first time.

Siblings may resent the relaxed rules a college student can now follow or just miss spending time with their brother or sister, while moms and dads face decisions about how to communicate and relate to a child transitioning from high school to college.

"It's normal to take at least a whole semester for everyone to adjust to the changes and challenges," said Cindy Webster, TTU's Counseling Center director. "Don't put pressure on yourself to have everything worked out in a few days or weeks."

Webster says parents and siblings often feel hurt when a child doesn't come home from school very often or when they do, they spend a lot of time with new friends.

"Parents, don't take it personally. Remember, your child's independence means you've done your job in teaching them how to be adults," said Webster. "Take pride in seeing your child grow.

"Brothers and sisters need to realize that they are missing their sibling because they must have had a good, solid relationship with him or her," she added. "Realize that adjusting to college and finding new friends in order not to be lonely is scary and uncertain, and it takes a lot of time and energy.

"The irony is that because your brother or sister feels confident and loved in your relationship, you get less attention so that he or she can work the new, less secure ones."

On the other hand, sometimes parents and siblings seem eager to embrace the changes and jump at the chance to turn the college student's bedroom into a space enjoyed by the whole family.

"It's best not to change a student's bedroom into a study, workout room or a guest bedroom without letting your child know what you plan to do," said Webster. "Communicate what your plans are before you shock them the first time they come home and their bedroom is no longer their personal space."

Lisa Macke, TTU's assistant director for clinical services, says the responsibility for smooth transition does not just lie with family members left at home. College students need to anticipate changes and be willing to communicate.

"Negotiate with your parents in a mature way about the changes in curfew or other household rules now that you are a college student," said Macke. "Don't willfully misbehave to try and get your way, but discuss what changes are acceptable to both you and your parents."

And what if a brother or sister is jealous and argumentative about the relaxed rules a college student may be allowed to follow?

"I suggest that they discuss their feelings with their sibling because he or she may be the best source for advice on handling parents," said Webster. "See if there is some compromise to be struck.  And siblings should remember that their time is coming."

There are some don'ts Webster suggests parents follow when it comes to communicating with your student.

"Don't start asking them what they plan to do after college or continually tell them these are the best years of their lives," she said. "Give them, and your whole family, a chance to make this transition without adding extra pressure."