Residential Life { Division of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management }

Image: Photos of SF State students and scenes from around campus

Check out the updated Community Living Standards.

Parent, Family and Caregiver Adjustment

There are many ways that parents, families and caregivers of residents can help their student adjust, some of which are described below. But just as important are the ways that families also move through an adjustment process where their student begins college and comes to live with Residential Life at SF State. The first key to adjusting to your student’s departure is both simple and difficult at the same time: acknowledge your feelings about their leaving your home and realize those feelings are valid and reasonable. It sounds easy, but it may require some conscious awareness of what your feelings actually are, and learning to be okay with them. For example, some parents/caregivers will feel apprehensive or sad. Others will feel proud and relieved. These are common and understandable reactions. Remember: it is as important to take care of your own adjustment reactions as it is to offer support to your student adjusting to life at SF State.

Tips to Help You Adjust to Your Student Leaving for SF State

Here are some more helpful tips to guide you as you adjust to your student leaving for college and becoming a member of the SF State Residential Life community:

  • Recognize that it’s normal to have mixed feeling about your student leaving home and allow yourself to experience whatever feelings come up. You might feel a sense of loss, or a sense of anxiety for your child. On the other hand, you might feel a sense of accomplishment or relief, including looking forward to the peace and quiet of having your older adolescent out of the house. Whatever your individual feelings are, it’s not helpful to pretend that you aren’t feeling them. It is helpful to talk about them with your partner, family members, friends, or whoever is a source of support for you.
  • Remember that coming to SF State is an important step for your student. It often represents many years of hard work on your part to help your child assume a productive place in the world. It can be helpful to focus on the fact that you have provided your child with this opportunity to learn how to make independent choices that will support him or herself throughout their lifetime.
  • Be prepared for differences in your relationship with your son or daughter. This includes when your student comes back from SF State for home visits which will be different than when she or he lived at home. Change is going to happen as your student expands her or his identity at SF State. This is a natural development. Be patient as these changes occur and affect your relationship in the short-term.
  • Remember to take care of yourself as you cope with your student leaving home for SF State. You might feel some increased stress or anxiety as you adjust. That is normal. Practice healthy stress management strategies, such as exercise, taking a walk, journaling, listening to music, or reaching out to friends and family just to talk. You might also find a creative outlet for yourself, especially if your only or last child has gone away to SF State. Taking on a new challenge can help manage your feelings and help you reinvest in a future for yourself. This might be a good time to do the things you always wanted to but were unable as you were focused on raising your child. Take advantage of it.
  • Learn to let go. Your student is making his or her own way and will make mistakes sometimes. That is to be expected. Be there to support your student, but not to take the reins and lead her or his life from afar.
  • Talk with, not at, your son or daughter. Even though your child is experimenting with independent choices, they still need to know that you are there and available to talk about everyday events and difficult issues. And when you’re talking with your student, afford her or him the type of respect that you expect from them.
  • Keep in touch, including keeping your student informed of things happening at home. This will help both of you during this time of adjustment. You can do this by video messaging, email, or even the old-fashioned way: sending a letter or funny card.

Tips for Helping Your Student Adjust at SF State

Here are some things you can do to support your student as they begin a new life at SF State and in our residential communities:

  • Encourage your student to access the wealth of resources at SF State and to build a sense of community here. For academic issues, talking with a professor, teaching assistant, academic advisor or someone in the academic department is a great first step. There is also the Advising Center at SF State and CARP, the tutoring resource. For emotional and overall health support, there is the Student Success Program, the Counseling and Psychological Services Center, and the Student Health Center. And The Office of the Dean of Students and SICC are excellent resources for ways to get involved on campus in one of the many student organizations and groups. All of these can be found at the SF State main website at
  • Learn to listen and trust. Try to understand your student’s point of view. Part of this includes trusting your student rather than second-guessing their motives or ideas. This can be difficult, and your student may need more support at some times versus others. Being available to guide, support and listen can be the most valuable thing you provide at this moment in your student’s life.
  • Offer guidance and clarity around financial matters. It’s helpful for your student to be clear regarding how tuition, fees, books and housing costs will be paid for, and what the expectations are about spending money. Being clear at the outset helps avoid misunderstandings and disappointment later.
  • Support your student regarding academic achievement and grades, including being realistic about academic performance. While it is entirely appropriate (and helpful) to remind your student to be diligent about attending classes and studying earnestly, also remind him or her that no one can be perfect all of the time. College is as much about developing the capacity to work independently and consistently as it is about the ultimate grade. Reminding your student about his or her ultimate long-term goals can also be helpful when they are only narrowly focusing on one poor performance.
  • If your student wants to change schools, talk to, assure, and help her or him make an informed decision. Adjusting to college takes time, often up to a year. Encourage your student to establish daily and weekly rituals they enjoy, as well as a support community through campus organizations and groups. This can ease the homesick feeling that is natural for many new students at SF State.

Need more information? Here are some resources that address parent, family and caregiver adjustment to a student’s departure for college:

  • Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Just Send Money , by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller, St. Martin’s Press, 2000
    When children leave for college, many parents feel uncertain about their shifting roles. By emphasizing the importance of being a mentor to your college student, Don’t Tell Me What To Do, Just Send Money shows parents how to influence their college students while still supporting their independence. The authors offer valuable insight into the minds of college students and provide parents with simple suggestions for improving communication with their children. Filled with humorous anecdotes and realistic dialogs between parents and students, this comprehensive guide covers a wide range of issues including financial matters, academic concerns, social adjustment, and postgraduate choices.
  • Bringing Home the Laundry: Effective Parenting for College and Beyond, by Janis Brody, Taylor Publishing Company, 2000
    A family counselor explores the feelings that parents experience as their children go off to college. The fact that such separation experiences can lead to parental depression is recognized and suggestions are provided for preventing negative outcomes for both the parents and the students. The major theme of the book is “change,” and one chapter even offers a Change Resistance Test for parents to evaluate their potential for separation anxiety.
  • When Kids Go to College: A Parents’ Guide to Changing Relationships , by Barbara M. Newman and Philip Newman, Ohio State University Press, 1994
    This practical guide will answer that important question and tell you how to make the most of these exciting years. Topics covered in this book are: identity formation, values development, career exploration, social relationships, sexuality, alcohol and drug abuse, romantic relationships, dorm life, personal freedom, depression, discrimination, and college bureaucracy.
  • Letting Go: A Parents’ Guide to Understanding the College Years, by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, Harper Collins, 1997
    Letting Go leads parents through the period of transition that their student experiences between the junior year of high school and college graduation. The authors explain how to distinguish normal development stages from problems that may require parental or professional intervention. The new edition explains the differences between college life today and the college life parents experienced twenty or thirty years ago. It features a completely new resource guide that introduces parents to campus technology, useful websites, and other organizations providing information on a wide range of topics.
  • When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parents’ Survivor Guide, by Carol Barkin, Harper Collins, 1999
    In this volume, a mother who survived her child going to college offers tips from her own experience. Practical matters such as financial issues and separation from the rest of the family, even pets, are covered. The book provides a nice balance between “how to” issues ranging from packing and doing laundry to emotional issues like parent visits to campus and summer vacations at home. However, the chief focus is coming to terms with the parental emotions of loss and separation.
SF State Home