Tag Archive | parenting advice

You’d Better Watch Out, You’d Better Not Cry, Your College Kid is Coming (Back) to Town!


Tomorrow I’ll head out to pick up my freshman for winter break. On the one hand of course I’ll be thrilled to have him home for almost a month. On the other hand I confess I’m a little apprehensive: Will he fit in to our new household routine? Will he be bored by our life, which is considerably quieter than a freshman dorm? And perhaps the biggest unknown: How will we adjust to his new independence, in light of his younger sister’s routines and rules, not to mention our own sanity?

I’ve prepared myself to not see him much—I know he’ll want to sleep late into the morning and visit with his old buddies late into the night. To help me prepare for other changes, I’ve been doing some reading, hunting for tips for making this vacation a good one. Here are some suggestions I’ve gleaned on the subject of adjusting to a college kid’s return to the fold for the holidays:

Manage your expectations. Along with those visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, I know I’ve got fantasies of joyous reunions and laughter and togetherness, along with hot cocoa and roasting chestnuts—the works! Reality is bound to be different, and if I’m not careful—disappointing. So I’m trying to be aware of my hidden agendas—trying to let them go so I can simply be open to whatever is actually happening, rather than holding on to what I think should be happening.

Keep connected to the younger sibs. My younger daughter has gotten used to being the center of parental attention (for better or worse)—and she’s definitely gotten used to having a bathroom to herself! Having her older brother home may take some getting used to. Other younger sibs may have to adjust to having to share access to the car. I want to check in with my daughter from time to time to see how it’s going for her to have her brother around.

Same with the college kid. I expect mine to be exhausted from a long semester, topped off by a week or two of exams. And I know from his previous trips home that it can take him a while to settle in, to feel like home is actually home. I expect our little town to feel a lot smaller to him on this extended break—and a lot less interesting than the city where he now lives. And I wonder how it’ll be when his little sister is busy with her school activities and sports, and he has less contact with her than maybe he thought he would…

Plan a few family activities, but not too many. To make sure we do spend some fun time together, we bought tickets to a hockey game and a concert we know we’ll all enjoy. And we have some family gatherings lined up right around Christmas. Otherwise, we’re trying to keep things loose, partly because I know my freshman likes his down time, but also because I know it’s going to be important for him to reconnect with his old high school friends. Which leads me to:

Be ready to renegotiate rules and expectations. My son is used to staying out pretty late when he’s on campus, and that’s largely fine with me, since I don’t know when he’s coming or going. But it’s going to be a challenge for me when he’s heading out for the night as I’m heading up to bed. We’re going to have to talk that out: I don’t want to give him a hard-and-fast curfew, but letting his housemates (i.e., his family) know where he’s going and when he’ll be home is common courtesy, right? That’s how I plan to approach it.

Enjoy your young adult! In her book Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years, Karen Coburn suggests asking your college kid to take some inventory now that the first big semester is over. “Winter break is an opportunity for students to reflect on the semester—on ways they have changed, on what they have learned and on how their goals are evolving,” she writes. “Conversations between parents and their college age children about these topics can be extremely rewarding for both parties.” Coburn adds, “Parents who engage in conversations of this sort with their children, rather than just asking them about grades and professional goals, are likely to find this a very rich experience. It’s a great feeling to have your child open up new worlds for you. Listen to their excitement over new ideas without judgment. Ask your child to recommend a favorite book to you.” That sounds like fun, right? After all the work we put into raising our kids, here’s our chance to enjoy the young adults they’re becoming. I hope I remember to slow down and do just that!

Okay experienced empty nesters: What else do we need to know to prepare for this upcoming winter break?

That beautiful image? Some rights reserved by Bert Kaufmann.

Feverish Far From Home: When Your College Kid Gets Sick

Get well
By Chris Little

It wasn’t long after my son got to college that I felt that primal urge to speed halfway across the state to rescue him. He was at the first home football game with some friends when early in the first quarter he began seeing those weird visual disturbances that signal an oncoming migraine. Now, he gets one every month or so, so he knows the signs and he’s got medicine that helps—which sadly he didn’t have with him at the game—no backpacks allowed. Still, he got himself home and slept it off and basically managed things fine. But then, just a couple days later, he felt another one coming on—he’s never had them that frequently, so I was more concerned. What should I do? Should I drive out there? But what could I do once I got there? In the end I suggested he go to his school’s student health center, which he did. The doctor adjusted his medicine and made a few other suggestions, and things are going better.

But I know this isn’t the last time my kid will ever have health problems far from home. You know, college kids live crammed together in those dorms, not getting enough sleep and sharing all kinds of germs. What can I do to support my kid—and his independence—when he’s sick at school? I did some reading, and here’s what I found:

First aid kitPreparation

  • Teach them to keep themselves healthy. Before they move out, we need to make sure our kids know all about healthful eating, sufficient resting, frequent hand-washing, and scrupulous sneeze-covering. Now’s your chance to nag!
  • Arm them with antibodies. Send your student off to college thoroughly vaccinated—her school will tell you what shots she needs.
  • Equip them with a first aid kit. Keep it simple: a thermometer, acetaminophen or ibuprofen, some antibiotic cream and bandages. You might also toss in some liquid soap or hand sanitizer.
  • Encourage them to get a flu shot. If her school doesn’t offer them, suggest that your student check the nearest pharmacy. I took advantage of my son’s recent Fall Break visit to have him vaccinated. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s less of a hassle than having the flu over exam week!
  • In case of emergency. Suggest that your student program her school’s emergency numbers into her cell phone. It’s also wise to know the location of the nearest urgent care center or emergency room.


No matter how hard your kid tries to stay healthy, she’s likely to get sick at some point during her college years. What should she do? For the most part, she should do just what you’d tell her to do if she were home, of course!

  • Shelter in place. If she’s not too sick, your student can just rest in her room and treat her symptoms with plentiful liquids and acetaminophen or cold medicine. It’s also a good idea for her to let her resident assistant know how she’s doing.
  • Get some help. If she’s very sick or has diarrhea and/or vomiting that doesn’t resolve in a couple hours, suggest that your child head to her school’s student health center. But don’t rely on the school to tell you how she’s doing—privacy rules prohibit them from discussing your student’s health unless she gives express permission.
  • Send a bulletin. If your student is sick enough to miss classes, remind her to notify her professors.

StethoscopeIn the Waiting Room

But what about us parents hovering at a distance — is there anything we can do? Sure!

  • Be available. Let your student know you’re there for him if he needs you, but don’t rush in to rescue him (but see below).
  • Be attentive. You might check in a little more often than usual via text or phone. But be sensitive to signals that your “a little more” is perhaps “a little too much” for your kid.
  • Be thick-skinned. Taking care of our sick offspring is a strong instinct! It’s hard not to take it personally when said offspring wants to take care of herself. Still, try to take her cold (though perhaps feverish) shoulder for what it is—a sign of healthy independence.
  • Be generous. That is, when it comes to mailing a care package and/or get-well card. Now’s your chance to indulge your nurturing impulses by packing that box full of tea, soup mix, tissues, favorite snacks, the works.
  • Be wise. If you’re worried that your student is in real trouble, such as struggling with depression or other serious emotional or physical difficulties, it’s probably time to step in more directly. And of course, if you fear your student is in danger, call the school and/or the local police immediately.

More Than a Common Cold?

Recovering from a more serious or longer-term illness like mono in a dorm room can be rough. What then?

  • Move in-house? Some student health centers are equipped with an infirmary where your student can rest apart from the ruckus in the dorm. Ask your student if this sounds like a good option.
  • Come home? Some families live close enough to bring their student home for a short break to recuperate—sometimes a few days of home-grown TLC is all it takes.
  • Keep the school in the loop. If you and your student determine that it’s best for him to come home for more than one or two days, make sure he notifies his professors, resident assistant, and academic advisor. Most professors will work with a student to accommodate a medical absence—if they know it’s happening.

I hate to think of my college kid suffering from an illness while he’s away from home, but I know it’s part of letting him grow into independence. What are some other strategies for supporting a sick kid from a distance?

“Mommy, I Don’t Want You to Sing Right Now (and Other Ways Your Child Will Hurt You)”

Be-bopping to the music on a long car ride

Be-bopping to the music on a long car ride

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Can you remember the first time your child told you they love you? I do. The first time your child says “I love you” – unprompted and unscripted, is a very special moment. In the journal I keep of my son’s ‘firsts,’ I recorded the following (excerpted) entry. My son was 2 ½ years old.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Our evening time together was something we treasured and held sacred. Dad and I read you stories after getting you ready for bed, and then we would say prayers together. As you grew older, when we tucked you in it usually proceeded in the same way … we would ask you to turn out your light and then “hop” into bed so Daddy could give you a kiss before I sang to you.

This evening, after I sang ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ you raised your head off your pillow, looked me right in the eyes and said, “I love you!” Oh my goodness, your first initiated “I love you” – how very precious.

I love you too ~ always.

As a family brought together through adoption, the mother-child bond I have with my son happened differently than the automatic bond between a mother who carries her child in her womb and gives birth to her baby. Our bond had to be formed and molded through late night bottle feedings, holding him close to my heart, and lots of song and play.

Out of all those shared moments and experiences, I believe what “sealed the deal” is singing to him. Throughout most of our days, I sang lullabies, nursery rhymes and hymns. When I sang the Doxology (Praise God from whom all blessings flow…), my son was entranced. He would stop whatever he was doing and just stare at me, smiling. Then I began making up songs about our daily routines – getting dressed, preparing breakfast, going to the library, folding laundry. Usually the songs would rhyme, and my son seemed to enjoy hearing about our family and activities through these musical lyrics. When he was old enough to understand humor, I made up silly songs about anything that would make him smile or laugh. We created beat and rhythm by drumming on our laps or the kitchen counter. Using our musical instrument set, we played along to cds, and added background music to our “family songs.” Music had become a part of our daily lives, and I don’t recall a day that has gone unaccompanied by a song.

My son and I create music every day

My son and I create music every day

Just as I remember my little boy’s first “I love you,” I also recall the first time he told me he didn’t want me to sing. We were in the car listening to one of his favorite cds with lively song versions of nursery rhymes. As usual, I began singing along when my son stated simply, “Mommy, I don’t want you to sing that now.”


Fortunately, I know enough about child development to realize wanting me to do or not do something is a normal part of my son finding his place in this world. He was simply experimenting with his affect on the people around him and his environment. He had begun seeking his autonomy.

Over the course of parenthood you may be surprised by something your child says. Children feel one emotion at a time and in a big way. Your child is over-the-moon happy, or she unleashes unbridled anger at not getting her way. The important thing to remember is that your little one really isn’t trying to hurt you. As difficult as it is to not take it personally, remaining as neutral and impartial as you can sets the stage for a successful resolution to whatever is upsetting your child. If you instead focus on what your child is trying to express and keep it all in perspective of a normal developmental stage, it will be much easier to respond appropriately.

Below are suggestions for responding to the words, “I hate you!” These tips can also be used in other situations where your child is angry and upset, and unleashes a verbal assault on your ears. Responding gently will keep everyone’s emotions in check and help your child find positive ways to express her feelings.

Coping with Your Child’s Autonomy

“I hate you!” I have not heard this phrase … yet. This one is hard not to take to heart, especially when you love your child more than anything in the world and assume he has the same unconditional love for you. Of course when things are good your child is content, and looks at you with great affection and adoration. When things are bad, however, life is bad, you’re bad and your preschooler “hates” you. In reality, he is learning how to express he is upset with you or that something is not right in his world.

How to respond:

* Remain calm. This is always important in the face of a verbal deluge or physical temper tantrum. During his rant fest, your child is already out of control. If you lose your ability to handle the situation calmly emotions will escalate, your child will feed off your anger, and the incident will become more out of control. Keep an even tone in your voice and exhibit open body language. Your child will eventually calm down when he sees that in spite of his emotional state his environment remains peaceful. Knowing that you are there to hug and support him makes it easier for him to correct his behavior once he regains his composure.

* Avoid shaming or belittling your child’s feelings. It’s tempting to respond to your child’s “I hate you!” with “Well, I love you.” Yet this only shames your child. Saying, “Oh, you know you love Mommy,” “You don’t really feel that way” or “There’s no reason to get so upset!” belittles your child and does not acknowledge her feelings.

* Acknowledge your child’s emotions. Reserve judgment and without mocking show your child what her facial expressions and body language (scrunched face, clenched fists, hands on hips) look like. Then name her emotions. Becky Bailey, developmental psychologist and early childhood education specialist, suggests in her column on the Baby Center website … “Remember that your child is still learning to manage her emotions. She needs help expressing her feelings, and her way of asking for help is to play a kind of emotional charade game: She acts out her feelings, and it’s up to you to figure out what she’s getting at and how to help her. ‘I can tell from the way you’re acting that you feel angry. You seem frustrated that you can’t get that dress on your doll.’ If she nods in agreement, follow up with, ‘That’s very upsetting!’

* Model alternative emotional responses. When children “freak out” they are only mimicking what they have seen their parents or others do in many situations — express a strong emotion with one simple word: “I hate waiting in traffic!” or “I hate when my hair gets so frizzy!”

* Help your child voice his feelings appropriately. Give your child positive wording that helps him express his feelings without invoking such strong reactions. “When you feel this way say, ‘I feel mad. Please help me.’” Demonstrate other options for expressing emotions and frustration. “You could ask Mommy to help you get the tag in the back before you put on your shirt.” “Let’s pick out another shirt that might be easier to put on.” Offering choices is also helpful when your child lashes out because he can’t have something he wants: “You may have a lollipop after lunch; for snack this morning, you may have a banana or an apple.”

Remind yourself that your child’s behavior is normal, and in no way indicates how he really feels about you. This will make it easier for you to help him cope with strong emotions and express his feelings.

Helping my son feel safe to express his emotions has strengthened our bond

Helping my son feel safe to express his emotions has strengthened our bond

How have you responded to hurtful words your child has said? What suggestions do you have for dealing with a child’s raw emotions while maintaining your composure? We would love to hear your stories and ideas!

The Inexact Science of Parenting

By:  Mary Ann Filler

“Parenting Wordle” created at wordle.net

Have you ever noticed that family members, friends and even complete strangers have very strong opinions about the parenting process?

From the moment the “baby bump” appears, the advice begins to flow about how to best accommodate the little tyke.  All of the “should” and “should not’s” can seem overwhelming for any parent.  Should you nurse or formula feed?  Should you allow a pacifier?  Should your angel be cloaked in cloth or disposable diapers?  Should you leave the house with a new baby or stay cloistered?  Should you make our own baby food or rely on store bought?  When should you begin toilet training? Should your toddler watch TV?  On and on the dilemmas of parenthood go…

When I think back 17 years to those early decisions, I remember wondering if my husband and I were making the “right” decisions for our first-born.  I decided to nurse, but it was difficult.  No one in my family had nursed and there really wasn’t support in our area for nursing mothers.  In addition, my son had colic.  At the time, I remember my very well meaning grandmother saying that I was probably contributing to that condition.  Now, I loved my grandmother, God rest her soul, but the pediatrician stated otherwise.  In fact, the pediatrician said that the colic could actually get worse if we put our son on formula.

My husband and I made other parenting decisions that were, in some circles, frowned upon.  We frequently allowed our son to sleep with us as a result of difficulty he had getting to sleep and staying asleep.  If it weren’t for that decision, I don’t think I would have survived his first year of life!  Still, it was difficult knowing that others did not approve.  Would we ruin his ability to get himself to sleep as some of the “experts” warned?  We also allowed a pacifier to help soothe himself.  Would his teeth be crooked or his speech affected due to this decision?

When it comes down to it, there isn’t one set of “correct” decisions for every parent to follow.  Parenting is NOT an exact science.  Every child is unique as is every parent.  I wish I had been able to smile and nod at the well-meaning advice givers, but many times I became internally defensive and full of doubts as to whether we were making the correct choices.

Parenting in the early years was not a perfect process.  We made mistakes to be sure.  Despite the mistakes, however, I’m happy to report, that our son thrived as he continues to do today.  He gained weight, learned to go to sleep on his own, and gave up the pacifier before it could affect his teeth or speech.  Oh, and despite waiting to potty train until he was close to 3, he learned to use the potty and stay dry day and night.

As our second and third children were born (after gaining perspective from the decision-making process we had experienced with our first born), we were able to relax a bit with those early decisions and realize that we were making the best decisions for OUR children.

BUT, when I think about where we are today with our first son, age 17, I continue to remind myself that every child is unique as is every parent.  We are still making parenting decisions, albeit on a different level.  Should our son be required to work a part-time job?  Should we allow him to drive to school?  How much work should he be required to do around the house?  What are our expectations for his grades?

It’s natural to look left and right to see how our parenting peers are handling these decisions.  In fact, some of our peers may even give us advice, solicited or not.  However, just because a decision is “right” for another family doesn’t mean it’s “right” for yours.  In fact, I’ve discovered that some decisions were appropriate for our oldest son that have not been appropriate for our younger sons.  In the end, the children that we are raising are our responsibility, and we know and love them more than anyone else.

In summary, I leave you with a quote by one very wise Bill Cosby:

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and, of course, courage.”