If you pick up the advertisements from the Sunday paper at this time of year, you’ll quickly notice that it’s time to begin thinking about the back-to-school process.

For some families, this process involves looking through the school supplies for a certain size of glue bottle or a package of a certain number of highlighters. For others, it involves buying sheets and towels in an effort to prepare a student for life in a college dorm.

A good friend of mine is currently preparing her son to leave home for his first year of college. The other day she told me she’s worried about how she’ll handle leaving after dropping him off. She thought she may need to take a few days off work as a period of official mourning.

While we laughed at this idea, the sentiment behind it is true for most anyone who has gone through the process of moving a child to college. It’s a time of mixed emotions for both parents and students. Planning ahead for this transition can make it easier for all involved. Families can take actions now to help the process go smoother.

1. Parents and students need to establish healthy ways of communicating prior to the separation. Ongoing communication is easier now than it ever has been. The days of a the student having to wait in line for the dorm phone in the hallway to call home using long distance calling has been replaced with cell phones and texting. Prior to dropping your student off at college, set a plan for frequent check ins via phone or text. You and your child need to discuss what parameters can respect the student’s need for independence AND respect the parent’s need to know the child is OK. Collaboratively decide how often your student will touch base and the format by which it will happen. Perhaps a couple of texts at the end of the day and a phone call on the weekend will work for your family. Others may need more or less contact.

2. Don’t wait until your student is at college to provide him or her with some freedoms. Parents won’t be able to monitor every aspect of their child’s life while he or she is out of the home — nor should they. By providing your child with more freedom over their schedule and whereabouts while he or she is still home, you can be nearby to help problem solve anything that may arise. Think of it as giving your child the ability to practice independence with you nearby prior to having to do it “for real” at college.

3. Discuss, plan and practice money management. Many students go to college without being prepared for handling their finances independently. Many have never had to live within a structured budget that requires them to manage money over time. Parents can teach students these skills in the months prior to taking them to college. Parent can help students create a school-year budget that takes into account both income and expenses. Implementing the budget can be practiced and monitored for several months prior to the start of the school year.

No matter what you do, the back-to-school process for college students is likely to be an emotional time for both parent and child. Shopping for sheets and towels can be an important and exciting part of the process of getting ready for school, however, the discussions related to communication, independence and financial management will have a greater impact.

And it just might help both parent and child feel a little more confident going into this transition.

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Scott Butler has been a professional educator for 30 years. He has worked as a classroom teacher, school counselor and school administrator. Additionally, Scott is a licensed mental health practitioner. He is currently the director of the Boys Town Day School. He is father to four kids ranging from 14 to 22. Outside of work, he is an avid gardener and quilter.

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