9 Tips for Staying in Touch with Your College Student
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As a parent all my efforts are geared towards raising my children so they become an adult that can move out and function successfully on their own. But when that day came, it was tough to let my “baby” go. Knowing that I’d be able to keep in touch with my “baby” when she’s hundreds of miles away at college made it just a bit easier when she left (who am I kidding, it wasn’t easier, but I’m very thankful that there are many different ways to communicate with her while she’s gone). Knowing how to stay in touch while respecting boundaries as your child is growing up can be challenging. These tips for staying in touch with your college student have worked very well for our family.
I’ve talked with my daughter about this and she agrees that we’ve found a good balance in our communication that allows her to be an adult and allows me to sleep at night. This is my “baby’s” second year at college and honestly it wasn’t any easier to abandon her hundreds of miles away at college, but knowing how much she enjoys it and what a wonderful adult she’s becoming makes it worthwhile (after all, that has been our parenting goal for 18+ years). As a parent educator, I know it’s important to respect my child-becoming-an-adult’s boundaries and not smother her, but as a mama I need to know my “baby” is okay and I’m interested in what she’s doing and experiencing. These tips for staying in touch with your college student will help you find the communication balance that will work for your family.
Tips for Staying in Touch with Your College Student
Let your child set the pace of communication. Many colleges will tell parents that you should never contact your child, but instead let them contact you. While I understand the rationale behind that approach, this mama had a tough time with that. Not because I wanted to tell my “baby” what to do, but because I’m wanted to hear about all her new experiences. For the first two months, I purposefully waited and allowed my daughter to contact me. Before she left for college, I explained to her that I’d do my best not to smother her and I’d wait for her to communicate with us. I told that it would be tough for us to not hear from her at all. I explained that we were excited for her and wanted to hear all about what she was experiencing. She also knew that I’m a worrier, so I didn’t need to explain that. After two months, I had another talk with her. I pointed out that we’d both proven that we could go two months without me smothering her and letting her be the one to initiate the communications, but from that point on I’d contact her occasionally. For the remaining seven months of the year, I contacted her once in a while, but I was careful to allow her to initiate the bulk of our interactions. Having your child to initiate communication with you allows her to rely on her own problem solving and decision making skills, which is the point of growing up.
Commit to no-guilt communication. I know some parents that try to guilt their college students into more frequent communication. The “innocent,” “We really miss you and haven’t heard from you in such a long time” is a classic guilt tactic. Using guilt to motivate a child, especially an adult child, is never the best choice. It’s fine to say, “We’re having your favorite dinner and thinking about you. Hope you’re having a good day,” but avoid the heavy-handed, “We’re making your favorite dinner, if only you could be here with us.” Can you hear the difference? Using guilt almost always backfires on you. If your child does end up contacting you, it’ll be begrudgingly and not the interaction you’re hoping for. Make a commitment to yourself not to fall into trying to guilt your child into staying in touch.
Send a note in their suitcase. Your college student will be focused on their adventure, their needs and their worries (as they should be) and so they may not initiate communication with you right away after you drop them off at college. I always a hide a note in my child’s suitcase or box so that she’ll find it after we’ve left. When she finds the note she knows that we’re thinking of her (and thought of her even before we left home since I took the time to hide the note). She can hang onto that note and have a physical communication from us to hold (sometimes you just want to hold a letter or photo). It’s a concrete reminder that we’re supporting her and thinking of her. It’s also a great no-guilt way to encourage her to call. “Hey, mom. I just found the note you hid in my socks. Thanks. Miss you. Gotta run to class. Love you, bye.”
Follow your child on social media. Sign up for and follow your child on all social media channels that they use. It a great way to see what your child is doing and an easy way to send them a quick no pressure”shout out.” Do be careful of striking the balance between being too involved and sending a thoughtful comment of support. Remind yourself that you don’t need to comment on every social media post. Let your “baby” have her own space. Remember when you allowed your child to climb the playground equipment on their own while you fondly watched them from a distance? That’s your goal on social media.
Text to keep in touch. When I went to college I left my family in Hawai’i and went thousands of miles away to college on the East Coast. I look back and wonder how my parents did it. I only called once a week (that was back when long distance calling was expensive). The once a week call was the only communication they had with me. Thankfully today we have texting and it’s a great way for my daughter to quickly keep in touch with us and let us know what’s going on. Just like when she was living at home, she can text anytime she wants. It’s also a great way for me to be able to ask “business” questions, like, “What’s this unexpected $25 charge on your college account?” Just be sure to walk that tightrope of not smothering and letting your child set the pace.
Talk via video chat or phone call. It’s wonderful being able to see my daughter when I video chat with her. My other children always come running to video chat with their sister when they hear the call. The great thing about having the app on my cell phone is that I’ll never miss the opportunity to chat with my “baby” when she finds the time to call. Since I’m doing my best to let her initiate communication with me, I want to do my best to be available when she can talk. It does’t always work out, but there have been several times that I’ve sat in my car in a parking lot and enjoyed the opportunity to video chat with my “baby.” Please always be safe when using your cell phone to communicate with your college student – no texting and driving, etc.
Having unlimited talk, text and data on your cell phone plan will make staying in touch with your college student one less thing to worry about. As a Walmart Family Mobile Ambassador, I can tell you that having the Walmart Family Mobile service for $29.88 per month for the first line gives you an Unlimited Talk, Text and Data service plan that includes up to 1G of 4G LTE data. That means you can call, text, follow on social media and video chat with your child all on your cell phone.
It’s easy to pick up a cell phone for any budget for both your student and yourself on one of those many, many trips you make to Walmart to purchase college supplies.
Listen to your child, don’t lecture. As a parent, it can be difficult to let your child figure out problems on their own and grow into their own person. If you want your college student to continue to communicate with you, be very careful to listen the vast majority of the time and almost never lecture. If you lecture your college student each time they reach out to you, you’ll find that they contact you less and less often. Of course, there are times when you may need to make suggestions, but that should be less frequently than you want. Think twice before you offer unsolicited advice and think twice about how you word your advice. Rather than giving advice, ask non-judgmental questions to help your child think through their situation and problem solve their decision.
Send care packages. If you know me, you know I lo-ove to send care packages. A care package is a great way to show your child you’re thinking of them. Receiving a care package is like waking up on Christmas morning or winning the lottery. It’s another way to encourage your child to communicate with you. I’ve shared many college care package ideas ranging from the First College Care Package of the Year, to a College Care Package for Women, to a College Finals Care Package. Make your college care packages fun and even a little bit silly. Include fun items along with practical items. Include handwritten notes from each family member because a handwritten note is a special way to show you care these days. Check out my college care package ideas to get your imagination started.
Visit your child if possible. It’s not always possible to visit your child at college, but if you can, it’s a great idea to visit them in the second or third month of their first semester. Most college have a parents’ weekend that is a great opportunity to visit your child and see them in their new “natural habitat.”Although parents’ weekend is a college tradition, I prefer to visit my daughter a weekend before or after parents’ weekend. It’s less hectic and chaotic so we’re able to spend more quality time together. But whenever you can visit, it’s good for your child to show you how grown up and capable they’ve become in their new setting. It’s also helpful for you to meet their new friends and see where they live their college life. It gives you a reference and understanding when your child is telling you about events and stories.
You can tell that using my cell phone and unlimited Walmart Family Mobile talk, text and data plan is a big part of how I keep in touch with my “baby.” What tips for staying in touch with your college student have worked for you?
More Parenting Tips and College Ideas
Parenting Tips from a Mother of 3 and Parent Educator
I’m a mom of 3, a veteran and military spouse. I’ve moved into 20+ homes all around the world. My passion is helping busy people make the space and time for what’s really important to them.
Thanks for the reminder. We get so busy and forget the little things that mean so much.
I always treasure the little things, too, Monica.
Susan, this is such a great post. Everything you said is so true. I went through this a few years ago when my daughter went to college. I tried to give her all the space she needed and yet I wanted to always know she was ok. Texting really helped. I heard from her every morning and every evening. I always knew she was ok. Love that you send so many care packages. I know your “baby” must also. I am sure her roommates and friends are excited about it too!
I’ll always be a “worrier” but I’m so proud of my “baby,” just as you are, Cynthia, I know.
One of the hardest things is adjusting when that everyday interaction turns into a lot less frequent situation. I’m not sure how we’ll manage when our daughters leave home for college, we just hope that we leave them with a good enough impression that they’ll want us involved in their lives even after they leave home. Great post and very real, honest tips!
Thanks, Rose. It was very difficult for me but when I focus on how happy my “baby” is, how well she’s doing and how excited she is about her future, I’m able to be happy for her, too.
With 4 away in college for the first time this fall, I’m definitely going to be relying on all your really great ideas. It couldn’t be more important to stay connected with your kids as they move on to the next stage in their lives.
Great tips! I agree it is never easy saying goodbye as the head back to school! I love Skype! It has made the world so much smaller for my children and me.
Thanks, Stacey. How in the world did our parents survive separations from us without video chatting?!
Care packages have been a wonderful way for me to connect with my son, a freshman this year. Great article and advice.
Thanks, Alys. Staying in touch, especially freshman year, has been so important to us.