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You can feel it in the air. Excitement abounds in kids of all ages—and perhaps more so in parents. Elaborate displays pop up in stores, commercials repeat on TV, lists are created and double checked with care.

I’m talking, of course, about back-to-school shopping.

We’re performing this American ritual in the Lindsay household as we rush to purchase school supplies for our three girls. I see it here on campus as our returning students move back into dorms, bringing all the throw pillows, extra-long twin comforters, and box fans imaginable. It’s an exciting time, especially for parents sending someone off to college for the first time. As we check off our back-to-school list, how do we, and our children, prepare our hearts for this significant shift?

Transitions inevitably bring many emotions. Fear, anxiety, excitement, and perhaps even mourning are all wrapped around this change. When you leave your 18-year-old at the dorm, everything suddenly becomes different. Though it may seem huge and earth-shattering, this change is a good thing. You have parented for 18 years, instilling in your kids a love for the Lord and the values you want them to embrace. It’s time for them to learn how to take the next steps on their own.

Tips for the College Transition

But even though your child will be away from home and on their own, you never stop being a parent. Your role merely morphs. As a college president, I see parents navigate this change well every year. It’s easy to feel disoriented with your back seat empty and your child in a whole new place, but doing the following things can make this transition smoother and more joyous.

1. Stay Connected

It’s easy to feel disconnected from your child’s life when they’re hours away at school. To stay in the loop, set up regular times to talk on FaceTime, Skype, or just by phone. Ask good questions and make this time special for your son or daughter. If they enjoy the conversation, they’ll keep these appointments with you.

2. Parent without Parenting

Show them you’re proud of them being on their own and choose to not “parent.” Your child craves to be treated as an adult, but there will still be times she needs you. Your son may not wash his sheets all year. Allow him to make that choice. One day he will look back and realize the smelly and unsanitary error of his ways.

A good way to do this is to get a sense of the school’s activities and calendars. This will allow you to ask specific questions (Did you go to the back-to-school mixer on Friday night? How are you feeling about next week’s midterms?). That way you’re involved and interested in what’s happening in their lives without being overbearing.

3. Know Your Kid’s Peers

On check-in day, introduce yourself to the parents of your child’s roommates. Exchange emails and phone numbers and check in every once in a while. You both can learn about what’s happening on campus. Be warned, however. This isn’t a way to check in on your child’s comings and goings. It’s a way to be intentional and stay connected, and even build your own community. You all are going through the same things, so why not be friends as well?

4. Pray

Prayer is your greatest resource for the college years. We prepare our kids as best we can, but things still might happen much differently than we expect. Life is unpredictable, but prayer knits us closer to the Lord, brings us peace, and allows us to face the unexpected.

Prayer is your greatest resource for the college years.

Proverbs 16:9 states, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” We take comfort in these words because we know that though we prepare and plan, the Lord ultimately establishes our steps. He is in control; we are not. That’s a good thingwe can trust him. This is true whether you’re a first-time college parent or a seasoned pro. We plan and hope for the best, but God establishes the steps.

A tangible way to stay in prayer is to choose a specific aspect of your child’s life to pray over each day. You can also write out a few prayers for your son or daughter that you can mail to him or her every few weeks. Though they are away from you, little notes of encouragement can mean much. Most students do still treasure letters from home.

Things to Remember

It’s easy to feel disheartened during the college transition. I still remember the summer I transitioned from high school to college. It was a tough time. I was nervous and worried about how I would do in my new place. That anxiety and worry came out as sharpness in my words, especially with my parents and loved ones. I didn’t realize I was making the transition harder for myself and those who loved me most. It’s normal for your child to be overly emotional during this time of major transition. Though it can be hard, try not to take it personally.

And remember this: there has never been a generation more blessed than ours. We have more technology, more resources, and more knowledge than ever before. And now, your recent graduate is part of a special group—they are better educated than more than 99 percent of everyone who has ever lived on this planet. To put it simply: they are blessed. This is an encouraging thought to a parent sending their child off to school!

Transitions are never easy, and the move to college is full of difficult emotions and hardships. Nevertheless, this adjustment brings new opportunities for your child and your family. Lean into these, and remember that the Lord is establishing their steps. And if I can leave one parting word of wisdom: As you and your child finish packing, don’t forget the extra rolls of quarters for when (if) they wash their sheets.