Tag College

Nine Tips for Deciding Among College Offers

college student in garbThis entry is written for parents of college seniors considering which college offer to take. However, it can be extrapolated to similar situations.

First of all, congrats: your child got into not only one somewhere but–an assumption I’m making because you’re reading this entry–multiple somewheres! Remember how anxious you felt about that? How uncertain? (The metaphor I used with friends was that I felt like an abandoned toddler in a wet diaper, in down town Manhattan.) So, yes, s/he will not have to manufacture meth in a van down by the river in order to survive. Given that, here are some principles for guiding the decision making process the rest of the way.

#1: Take the time and energy to celebrate! It’s so easy to rush and to move on to the next hurdle. As the hurdles never end, take a break from the race and savor. Your baby did it!!

#2: Decide what money you are prepared to offer to fund your child’s college. Perhaps you are willing to fund any of the choices. If not, front load this in the conversation: “Becky, as we consider our choices, lets keep in mind that we (parent, parents, grandparent, etc) can fund X a year. So, if your choice’s tuition is over that we (as in Becky also) would have to have a viable plan in place for making up the difference before sending in a deposit.” Your prospective college student may still be thinking like a child: this is mom and dad’s problem to solve. If so, you may need to grow him or her up quickly in this regard.

#3: Don’t be shy about being in touch with the financial aide office of the money held by handinstitution(s) for help if what they are offering is short of what you can afford, especially if you have cause to believe that they look upon your child as a desirable applicant. They can also be a wonderful source of information regarding private scholarships and other sorts of funding options that may be available, as can your child’s high school guidance office.

#4: Listen and provide empathy before sharing your perspective. For the rest of your child’s life, this will usually be an ideal opening position. And, don’t rush getting to your perspective, even over the course of days or weeks. Of course, don’t avoid getting there either. (Don’t worry too much if you falter with this sometimes It’s more about the earnest effort to pull it off more than it is about batting 1.000.)

#5: Consider another visit to your child’s top choices. You’ve likely already been to the campuses but a re-visit, from the lens of this decision, can be very helpful. Try on this visit to have a deeper experience (e.g., attending a lecture in the planned major or in a required course, arranging for your child to stay overnight). Many institutions have such days planned for those students to whom they’ve made an offer. If your institutions doesn’t, ask. And, don’t be shy about asking if they’d be willing to cover your costs as well (some even offer this up front).

character checking off checkboxes#6: Search for information from people in the know about the institutions your considering.

#7: There are almost an endless stream of data points to consider (e.g., who has the better library, the better athletic facilities, the number of faculty with this or that distinction) and families vary wildly in terms of who prioritizes what. However, one stat out there that can be helpful in this context is the freshman retention rate. This statistic regards the number of freshman who become sophomores at that institution, which is a general measure of student/family satisfaction and institutional effectiveness. While this number generally looks high across institutions, the ones you are considering may have some notable differences in this statistic. (You can find this statistic and US News and World Reports’ website that ranks colleges.)

#8: If you’re “lucky” (I think it was Thomas Jefferson who first noted the connection between working hard and luck), the decision-makes will ultimately all have the same opinion about which offer to accept. If not, things can get very tricky. My default suggestion would be to defer to your child’s decision. S/he either is a legal adult or is about to become a legal adult (I know, a tough idea to wrap your mind around…or at least it is for this dad), so s/he will the one to experience the good, the bad and the indifferent consequences of this decision. It seems to me that it wouldn’t be fair for him or her to be in the position to experience any potential qualified or poor outcomes based on someone else’s perspective, no matter how well reasoned and intended. Keep in mind that this recommendation supposes two things are true: you’ve made all of the relevant data available to your child, including the opinions and reasoning of adults involved, and you are respecting your own boundaries regarding how much money you will be investing.

#9: Once the deposit has been sent in, and the decision made, try to avoid mentorsecond-guessing…forever, even in your own mind. Second guessing with your child risks generating significant tension between the two of you. Second-guessing in your mind is like chewing on glass. You did due diligence. You put all the resources you could into the decision. That’s all anyone can do. So, either enjoy your wisdom (i.e., evidence that the right choice was made) or practice the Serenity Prayer and let it go.

My first-born daughter is a senior who got offers from several institutions that she adores. So, I’m living with this issue these days as well and know it ain’t easy!

By the way, are any of you, who are also parents of first-born seniors, also wondering how the heck you’re going to get through having your baby move out? We all need a support group!



Disciplining a College Student Who Comes Home

attractive college student sittingA reader suggested this topic (I love such requests). Before I get to some suggestions, let me say that I’m basing this column exclusively on my clinical experience and intuition. With that caveat in mind, here are 10 suggestions to consider in regards to disciplining your college student who has come home for a visit.

  1. Figure out what is not okay with you and let your college student know about that before he or she arrives home (e.g., having a love interest share his or her bedroom, anything that’s illegal).
  2. With the exception of matters reviewed in the previous tip, try to not legislate behaviors that you can’t legislate while your college student is away (e.g., how much s/he studies, whether or not s/he goes to religious services, how much exercise s/he gets, what s/he eats). At this point in the game it’s unlikely your efforts will influence your college student’s attitude or behaviors very much; it’s more likely that you’ll create tension between you. Plus, I bet your college student would score high on a multiple-choice test regarding your attitudes on such topics.
  3. If you have to make points that might not be welcomed, try to do so by asking questions instead of making statements. For example, “I know you said you haven’t been doing well in math. What do you think the pros and cons would be of going to talk to the professor during office hours?”
  4. Try not to get your feelings hurt when your college student prioritizes 2 happy teens, african-americanhanging out with friends over spending time with you. It’s normative for him or her to want to do that. (If you have some special event you want him or her to attend, provide as much advance notice as possible.)
  5. When you are communicating focus on listening, providing empathy and offering specific and proportionate positive feedback. S/he may act like this doesn’t matter, but it usually matters a lot.
  6. Ask for your college student’s advice and opinions and be open to his or her wisdom.
  7. lesbian couple27. Let your young adult know that you’re available to talk about anything and that you don’t plan to be intrusive or nosy.
  8. 8. This goes for year round: take advantage of texting. Your college student may be more use to communicating through this method than others. Many parents of teens and young adults report that their progeny seem more open when texting than when communicating through other venues.
  9. The only reasonable punishments you probably have available to you involve not allowing access to those luxuries, services or resources that you provide (e.g., your car, the cell phone plan you pay for, a stipend you provide). If you believe your teen is at risk for violating the primary rules you’ve established in #1 above, let him or her know that access to such and so is contingent upon his or her compliance with this or that (e.g., access to your vehicle during week #2 is contingent upon using it responsibly during week #1). It’s important to establish this up front with a young adult (i.e., imagine how you’d want to be treated, and not treated, by a boss).
  10. If conflict between you and your adult child has become a regular part mom and kidof your relationship (e.g., s/he is squandering tuition monies by dialing it in at school), use the time at home to schedule a consultation with a skilled family therapist. For a referral click here.

In closing I’ll share links to two related blog entries: strategies for when your adult child moves back in with you and an entry on helping college students to get the most out of the academic experience at college.

Good luck!

10 Coping Thoughts When College Searching

character college gradA time of acute stress is when teens are searching for a college to attend. It’s so easy to harbor thoughts that promote anxiety and stress. However, just like one can change out of an uncomfortable pair of pants, one can swap out painful (and usually irrational) thoughts for ones that promote peace (and are usually more rational). Here are my favorite 10 coping thoughts for this situation.

1. It’s impossible to visit all the schools that might be a good fit for your child. There are over 7,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States (and it can sometimes feel like about half of them are sending your kid email or snail mail). Better to set a number to visit and know that this means you’ll be leaving many, many good schools out.

2. It’s okay to not know how it’s all going to work out. This is such a complex, long and draining process. Who the heck knows what will happen? It’s certainly possible to fill in the uncertainly with epic worrying. However, think about this: did you ever have another time in your life when you had no clue how something very important was going to turn out? Didn’t it usually end up working out okay, even if there were some bumps and bruises along the way? If Vegas were involved, the smart money would be on that it’s all going to work out fine.

3. It is very rare for a human to do his or her best job at anything over a woman sitting on books with a laptopsustained period of time. Your teen is either on point for this process, or co-authoring the lead with you. This means that s/he is probably sometimes procrastinating, sometimes breaking deadlines and sometimes not exerting sufficient effort. It’s important to remember that we are all like this, at least some of the time, even with important projects. Forgetting this can cause some pretty intense and unhelpful conflicts.

4. There is no such thing as THE ideal school for your child. As you do college campus tours notice the percentage of kids at that school who state that they are very happy with their choice. Sure, they’ll sometimes talk the marketing talk (i.e., this is THE BEST SCHOOL EVER IN THE UNIVERSE). But, either all but one of those groups of kids are correct, or, most kids end up liking where they go.

character holding line charted5. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money…though it can take a while to figure that out. I was recently doing a tour of a campus and calculated that the sticker price, across four years, including all ancillary fees, added up to about a quarter of a million dollars. (Good thing I wasn’t eating any food at the time or I’d have choked on it.) We parent-lunatics are disposed to think that our only two choices are 1. To give our baby what s/he wants and have him/her be happy, in which case we are a good parent or 2. To not give our baby what s/he wants, have him or her be miserable and have us both be failures. I have to laugh to myself because even blogging child psychologists are vulnerable to this type of thinking.

6. Affluence has little to do with happiness. The research indicates that once you know that a person has enough money to take care of his or her basic needs (e.g., shelter, clothing, food, medical care), knowing how much additional money that person has won’t tell you much about how happy that person is. While what institution a kid graduates from might sometimes affect future socio-economic status, I’ve never seen research affiliating graduating from a particular institution with happiness (and, believe me, if such research existed, that institution would be doing a full court press in the media about it!).

7. Your child is likely going to have criteria that seem stupid to you, and that’s okay. You’re probably focused on things like cost, return-on-investment, and the breath and depth of opportunities that the faculty can provide. However, your kid may be focused on how the greenery looks, the range of food offerings, the size of the showers and what bands played there in recent years. Maddening I know, but getting upset over that, or trying to get your kid to not be a kid, is as feckless as trying to vacuum all dust mites out of your home.

8. The school a kid attends tells you nearly nothing about the quality of his or hercollege student in garb parenting. I find that many of we parent-lunatics subscribe to this, albeit often without much awareness. “She could only get into schools whose admission standards are a pulse and the ability to write a check that doesn’t bounce, so I must have not done a good job as a parent.” “He got into an Ivy league school, so I deserve applause from the audience.” However, in my experience, judging the quality of parenting based on the school a kid gets into is about like judging the quality of a marriage based on the car(s) the couple drives.

9. It’s okay for your child to go to a university and have zero clue what s/he wants to do for a career. I’m not saying that every kid graduating high school is ready enough, and mature enough, to make decent use of a college education. But, among those who are ready to go, it is common to feel a lot of confusion about which vocation to pursue. That’s what taking courses and speaking with faculty can help with. Moreover, many universities offer career counseling at no additional charge.

toddler learning to walk10. It’s normative to feel freaked out about all of this. In the past few months I’ve told just about anyone who would listen that the process of college searching makes me feel like a toddler, in a wet diaper, all alone, in downtown Manhattan, during rush hour. I’ve since figured out that most parents going through this process feel similarly, at least at the start. And, most parents who are on the other side of it (i.e., whose kids have since graduated from college), say that they worried for naught…of course, they are now onto other worries…This parenting, it is not an open wound?

Anyway, good luck to you and your progeny!

An Open Letter to College Students

black woman graduating from behindAs a university professor I often encounter developmental hitches in students that feel outside of my purview to comment upon. Yes, I’ll mention some of these things in my course syllabi. But, I usually don’t draw individuals’ attention to them as to do so would feel paternalistic and intrusive. So, I thought I’d pen an open letter to college students in this forum. As a parent, you may find value in sharing this content with your progeny, especially if you’re footing all or part of the bill.

Dear College Student:

As a strong letter of recommendation from at least one faculty member is usually helpful in order to get into a good graduate program, or to obtain a desirable job, I thought I’d offer some suggestions for accomplishing that and for getting the most out of your courses and professors.

• Be early to class and appointments. And, if you need to be late, don’t bring coffee or retail food with you, as stopping for such suggests you’re casual about being late.

• Give academic tasks your best effort. This may or may not result in an A grade. For most of we professors, a student who busted his or her tail to earn a B is more impressive than the student who dialed it in and got an A.

• Frequently raise your hand in class. In many classrooms it is much better to state the wrong answer to a question than to remain silent. We character raising hand in a crowdfaculty also appreciate students who are willing to alleviate the extended silence than can descend after a question has been posed.

• Present yourself in a neat and clean manner. And, avoid chewing gum in class. If your piercings or tattoos could be considered garish by an older generation, consider whether it might be wise to suppress them.

• Always have with you your schedule and a way to take notes.

• Unless the matter at hand is urgent, or the professor encourages the use of such, never go online or text in class. If it’s urgent that you do so, ask the professor in advance if it’s okay.

upset at laptop• If the professor allows you to take notes with your laptop or portable device, don’t abuse that by using it for other things. (Believe it or not, we can usually tell when you’re making this kind of mistake…also keep in mind research indicating that notes taken by hand are more helpful for learning the material than notes typed on a device.)

• Make eye contact and take notes. Even if you have a superlative memory, taking notes suggests engagement.

• If you get sleepy, ask a question. Nodding in and out of consciousness, or looking like you are struggling to stay awake, may draw the professor’s attention to you in a negative way.

• Try to spend one-on-one time with your professors. This is most easily done by going to office hours. However, many faculty are willing to share a lunch or coffee, go for a walk and so forth. You can discuss class material, career aspirations, projects with which the professor is involved or anything that helps you to get to know each other better.

• Ask your professors what professional projects they are doing outside of class. cocky teacher pointingIf any sound interesting to you, ask if you can help, especially, if the faculty member works within your intended discipline.

• Try to prioritize your career above your extracurricular interests. For instance, I recently had a very talented student decline a great opportunity to get involved in a project that would have advanced his career. He politely turned it down because it conflicted with a social activity from which he could have been excused.

• Play devils advocate with faculty who demonstrate that they value that.

• If you come across a resource (e.g., YouTube video, article, cartoon) that overlaps with class content, send it to the professor as an FYI.

• Read the syllabus before asking questions about tests, grading, procedures in the class, and so forth. (Of course, if the syllabus is vague or incomplete, ask away.) We faculty tend to pour a lot of time and effort into our course syllabi. Asking a question that is addressed in the syllabus (albeit mildly and implicitly) disrespects the faculty member’s work and can make you look like someone who is either unmotivated or needs to be spoon fed.

• Be kind and respectful to other students. Few of us want to spend time with rude or cut-throat people.

fear• Be daring and avoid suffering from WAIT, or “who am I too…?” Self-doubt seriously dampens your ability to take advantage of the universe of opportunity around you.

• If you cross paths with the faculty member outside of class, flash a nice smile and say hello, calling the professor by name; avoid pretending that you haven’t noticed him or her. This helps you to exude confidence and suggests you are socially adroit, even if the faculty member has a dampened response.

• If you’ve been positively impacted by something the professor said or did, send a note about it once the course is over. Any form is nice, but handwritten notes tend to be more impactful.

• If you’re not going to attend a class email the professor about that and your reason. If the reason seems trite reconsider whether you should miss the class (i.e., none of us get really good at anything unless we consistently do it when we don’t feel like it).

• Speak the truth, as exclusively and as kindly as possible. If the academic speak the truth signenterprise is anything, it is the pursuit of truth (not the same as using “the truth” as a club to hurt or to control others). Lying, even if used to provide comfort, is a seductive coping strategy: the more you use it, the more you will be tempted to use it. And, the more you use it, the more you risk becoming known as someone who can’t be believed.

• Ask for favors face-to-face, and preferably outside of class (i.e., the professor may be distracted by competing demands in class). Requesting a favor through an email risks creating the (perhaps unfair) impression that you are shy or unmotivated.

• Avoid sending emails that solicit a lot of typing in response.

•If you’re writing about some way the professor can improve on a course evaluation, do so in a way that is kind and respectful, even if the professor did not treat you that way. This makes it much more likely that your message will carry weight and make a difference.

Keep in mind that most of we faculty recognize and appreciate that you are an adult. So, we won’t harp on you like (many) parents and high school teachers. We will let you be independent. This can create an impression that we don’t care about the points I’ve raised above. Not true. We care and form our opinion about you based on such things. So, when you come to us for letters of recommendation, or for requests to mentor a project, or to become involved in what we are doing, how you’ve performed on such accounts will usually impact the response you receive.

success ladderI’ll close with two thoughts. First, I realize that you are likely to encounter faculty who violate principles in this letter (e.g., they dial it in, are rude). However, interactions with such faculty afford you the opportunity to demonstrate (if only to yourself) that you can be a pro even when the other person is not. Second, I invite you to find at least one mentor while in college. To many faculty you are beautiful in your state of becoming. For this reason we enjoy, and find meaning in, mentoring. (I suspect that there would be a lot more mentoring going on were it not for WAIT.)

Good fortune to you during these precious and exciting years of opportunity, learning and growing. I hope you can get the most out of them in order to define and advance your vocational mission!

10 Tips for Surviving Your Kid’s Graduation

Your kid’s graduation, be it from high school or college, is a major family event. This entry includes my top 10 suggestions for getting the most out of the experience.

#1 Determine a figure that you plan on spending and stick to it unless you have a compelling reason to do otherwise. If there are other adults contributing it’s a good idea to partner with him, her or them in this decision. (If you don’t get along with the other person or persons arrange for a neutral party, that everyone trusts, to join the discussion.) It is so easy to spend an amount of money that is toxic for you, which is no favor to your graduate (i.e., in the months following the graduation she’ll benefit more from having a relationship with a well parent than from a stressed out parent). If your graduate gets pushy about celebrating his graduation in a way that exceeds your budget ask him what his plan is for coming up with the extra cash.

#2 Partner with your graduate in deciding how the money will be spent. For instance, your graduate may prioritize putting together a down payment on a car over having a party.

#3 Collaborate with your graduate on who will be invited to share in the celebration. You would want to have an important reason for overriding your graduate’s wishes along these lines.

#4 If you fund a party for your graduate’s friends make sure that it is chaperoned well enough to keep everyone safe and legal (e.g., not allowing underage drinking).

#5 Realize that celebrations hardly ever go off as planned. It is almost inevitable that one or more people, the weather, mechanical things, food or something else. will disappoint. Keep in mind that something like this is almost always bound to happen, that it is really only as hampering as you decides it needs to be and that what really matters is the graduation itself; such insights can keep a speed bump from causing a major crash.

#6 Include a present that has an emotional impact; this is the sort of gift that stands to keep on giving much longer than material presents. For instance, you might write a gratitude letter for your graduate (see my blog entry on this method), create a photo slideshow, with music, of your graduate from infancy up to the point of graduation, write a poem that expresses your thoughts and feelings about your graduate, and so forth. In getting in the mood for creating this gift imagine what it will feel like to watch your baby walk across that stage and take a diploma in hand.

#7 Assuming you are not hiring a professional for this purpose, ask a responsible friend or family member to do the picture taking and video recording. If you assign this task to yourself you will not only be in fewer of the images but you will be one step removed from taking part in the celebration.

#8 Respect the value of a good night’s sleep. While graduations are festive, they are also stressful. Stress plus a weary body can facilitate an assortment of unpleasant outcomes (e.g., irritability, compromised decision making, diminished concentration and impairing fatigue).

#9 Form a plan with your graduate, in advance, for how she will thank any who gave her presents or participated in the celebration (i.e., the method and the date by which it will be completed). This makes it less likely that you’ll be cast in the role of hound afterwards. (For less mature graduates you may need to form a contract stipulating that access to a privilege you provide–e.g., usage of a car–will only happen after the thank you cards are mailed.)

#10 Take at least a few moments to pat yourself on the back for all that you did to get your graduate to this place in life. Parenting is tough work that we all stink at it sometimes, but our efforts and intentions are selfless and beautiful and deserve to be recognized. In the instance of a graduation it is clear that your parenting was at least good enough to facilitate your kid successfully finishing a major educational hurdle. So, take an existential moment or two and enjoy that about yourself!

College Trips with Your Teen

diverse happy woman on floorHaving a Junior or Senior in high school prompts a daunting enterprise: finding a college. If ever there was a project that can take all the time you have to give, and more, it’s this one. There are so, so many (too many?) sources of information available regarding tactics. So, I won’t be discussing those strategies. Instead, I’d like to focus on some relationship issues I’ve seen as folks plan college visits.

• Try to develop some scoring rubric in advance of your trip. Divide 100 points up among those factors that matter to you and your teen: cost, distance, academic reputation, college atmosphere, student to faculty ration, etc. Then, as you do your trip do your independent ratings, comparing them after the trip is over.

• Try to surrender the concept of one perfect, or just right school. There are about 1,400 four year colleges in the U.S. So, there are likely more “just right” schools than you could ever have time to visit or seriously consider.

• Schedule an official tour (these will often answer many of your questions). Thenconfused graduate character develop your list of questions that you’d like to see addressed during the tour. The better of these will likely hit all the high points (e.g., dorms, library, classrooms, gym, cafeteria, study abroad options, internships, student center) but, if not, ask.

• Consider this to be a unique bonding opportunity with you and your teen. Take occasion to do some sightseeing or to create some special moments and momentoes. Who knows how much one-on-one time is in your near future with your teen; so, this time (even the commute) can be precious.

woman overwhelmed by books• Always ask for your teens opinion before giving yours. When you disagree with some analysis your teen has rendered, offer empathy for it and try to use questions to make your points. For example, if your teen, upon seeing a work of art at the entrance to the library, notes “Ewww. I could never come to a school that has such terrible art in front of its library!” You could first give empathy for that visceral reaction, pause (and maybe listen more), then ask, “what percent of the average students week here do you think he or she spends looking at that?”

• Try to schedule a visit to see a lecture in a discipline that is of some interest to your teen. Many universities, with a couple of weeks notice, are happy to help with this. (Don’t worry if your teen doesn’t have a major picked out yet. That’s common.)

• Make sure to take your own tour of the department where your teen may have a major. Don’t hesitate to knock on any doors where you see a faculty member and ask if s/he has 5-10 minutes for questions. (Make sure to have some ready.) The worse thing that happens is that s/he doesn’t have the time. The best thing that happens is that a faculty member, where your child ends up going to school, starts to develop a positive connection with your child.

• Try to make the time to look around the community surrounding the campus, leadershipfiguring out what various practicalities might be at play. (Many campuses are self-contained in terms of the range of services and entertainment available but sometimes it will be nice to break out to the surrounding area.) This can also give you a sense for the range of internships that might be available.

• Set up a timeline for yourselves. Your teen’s guidance counselor, or the myriad of other resources available to assist (e.g., websites, e-books), can guide you about what should go on your timeline. This can help you to feel some sense of control over what can be an incredibly daunting prospect.

man stressing to pursue money• Begin having discussions with your teen about financing as soon as you can in the process: what you can do and what you can’t do, or what you’re prepared to do and what you’re not prepared to do. This can be an important factor in helping your teen to be realistic about which schools s/he seriously targets and reduce the odds that s/he will fall in love with a school that isn’t a possibility. (Your guidance counselor can help you to rough estimate what adjustment down from the sticker price your child might hope to get from the school given the strength of his or her application.)

 • Begin reflecting on your teen’s capacity to manage himself or herself at various institutions. Is Becky ready to be 8 hours away on an urban campus with 10,000 students? Is Jaden prepared to do well in a lecture hall with several hundred students? In other words: what’s the nature of this pond and how well or poorly might your progeny swim there?
• Lastly, try to be patient with the process. We parent-lunatics are at risk to black man walingover-worry, to over-control and to get freaked out at all of the uncertainty. Somehow, someway, somewhere, s/he will likely land at some institution of higher learning and avoid a life of crime and/or homelessness.

Nine Questions to Consider if Your Adult Child Wants to Live With You

Our adult children (i.e., 18 or older) can feel paralyzed, overwhelmed or unprepared when it comes time to transition to the next phase of their lives, whether that is to attend college or graduate school or to hold down a full time job. For this reason, many petition to live at home, or to return home. This post is designed to address some key questions and issues for you to consider in these circumstances.

Parent question: Is there a priority I should keep in mind?

Answer: Yes. The key question is: Does your adult child have a viable vocational plan that stands a reasonable chance of accomplishing effective independence?  If yes, count your blessings and try to keep the other issues in perspective. If no, that is the place to start. There are multiple methods that may be used to create such a plan. For instance, vocational counselors  offer questionnaires that can be useful in narrowing down career choices (e.g., the Strong Interest Inventory). Moreover, if your adult child graduated from college, his or her university likely has a career services center that can help. Former teachers, guidance counselors, professors and mentors can also be invaluable resources.

Parent question: What if my adult child is completely clueless about what she or he wants to do for a vocation. Where is a good place to start?

Answer: Don’t worry if this is the case, as there are millions of adults in the same position, across the lifespan. A key first question is: What are your adult child’s top strengths? The premise is that all humans, barring significant brain dysfunction, have top strengths, or things that they can do in a superior fashion. Resources like the Signature Strengths Survey (www.authentichappiness.com)  or Tom Rath’s book Strength Finder 2.0 can be of help in generating theories regarding your adult child’s top strengths. Once the top strengths have been identified the next question is : What vocation will allow my adult child to execute those top strengths in service to others? Those who effectively realize the answers to these two questions tend not only to have a viable vocation, but also tend to experience great meaning and purpose in their work lives.

Parent question: Okay, let’s say my adult child has a viable vocational plan that requires her or him to live with me for a while. Should I set some rules about chores?

Answer: Most families find it important to have a collaborative discussion about these practicalities, which, of course, is different from a parent unilaterally deciding what the chores should be. You might start things off by creating the circumstance to have an extended discussion (e.g., going out to a restaurant, going for a walk, etc.). Then you can begin by affirming your adult child for the things in her or his life that you appreciate and value. You might then segue into the topic of dividing up tasks as follows: “Of course, whenever adults live together they share the household labor. What do you think would be a fair way for us to divide things up?”

Parent question: Should I charge rent? And, if yes, how should I calculate it?

Answer: There is no answer that can apply equally well across families. However, the more your adult child is working at a viable vocational plan, and the more she or he is scraping by financially, the more I might let this go. On the other hand, the more your adult child doesn’t seem invested in accomplishing independence, or the more she or he has a decent income, the more I might consider charging rent. Of course, how much you charge, and whether you charge at all, will also depend on your own financial health.

Parent question: Should I set a curfew?

Answer: I would not initiate a discussion about this unless a problem has emerged or is emerging. However, if your adult child is coming home at an hour that interferes with your getting a good night’s sleep or if your adult child seems to be developing self-destructive habits, then I would suggest initiating a discussion using the same strategy that I reviewed above regarding chores.

Parent question: What if my adult child does things like leave a dirty dish in the family room or a dirty towel in the bathroom, should I ask her or him to clean it up?

Answer: These sorts of dynamics happen whenever adults live together, no matter what the relationships are. In this context, I would probably try to keep the key issue in mind. That is, if she or he is working a viable vocational plan, and assuming I don’t feel too taken advantage of by cleaning up after someone, I might keep this agitation to myself. However, if you decide it is worth mentioning, I would do so by asking your adult child how she or he would suggest that you handle these situations.

Parent question: Do you have any other guidelines for communicating?

Answer: Remember that for a lecture to change human behavior two conditions must be met. First, the person must not already possess the information. Second, the person must want to receive the information. Hence, when lectures are used to try to change someone’s behavior in a family it is like a carpenter trying to drive a nail into a piece of wood with a screwdriver. There is nothing inherently wrong with the tool, it is just not designed for that particular job. Methods that are much more effective for modifying behavior include expressing empathy, asking questions (i.e., a method used by the best teachers), affirming what you like and partnering in decision-making.

Parent question: Is there anything I should avoid doing?

Answer: Yes, letting your adult child live with you without him or her having a viable vocational plan. I’ve seen many instances of adult children maintaining a vampire sleep schedule while filling their lives with some combination of electronic media, socializing and avoidance of responsibility. These sorts of “secondary gains” make it harder, not easier, for an adult child to experience the riches life has to offer.

Parent question: What should I do if my adult child and I are getting into regular and heated conflicts about these things?

Answer: I’d seek out a mental health professional competent in doing family therapy. It can be a remarkable and rewarding experience to have a well-trained and objective professional help to ease or completely resolve long standing family conflicts. For a referral in your community, click here.

Seven Tips for When Your Child First Leaves Home for College

And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.   Khalil Gibran

The first transition from home to college is huge. Double that statement if the child in question is the eldest. Please consider these seven tips for getting the most out of the experience.

1. Carve out one-on-one time with your departing child and savor those moments. As the wheel turns new and exciting opportunities become available in our relationships with our children. However, we also say goodbye to phases that we will never experience again. Your baby will never again live under your roof as a child. This deserves shared time and reflection.

2. Share the positive thoughts and feelings you are having with your child, including those regarding your impression of the man or woman he or she is becoming. Don’t stop any tears that might well up (plus you probably won’t be the only one)

3. Write a letter to your child that expresses what you are thinking and feeling. Then leave it among her or his belongings to be discovered later.

4. If your child agrees, and it is within your means, set up a method for video conferencing.  Even if you don’t use it much, it can be a comfort to you and/or your child to have it set up. (If you both have iPads or iPhones this can be done through the application FaceTime. Another relatively straight forward choice is offered by www.skype.com.) Also keep in mind that many retailers of computer hardware and software offer discounts to students, though you may need to ask about it to get it.

5. Encourage any siblings your departing child may have to come to terms with what they are thinking and feeling about the departure, and to communicate the positive aspects of such to their departing sister or brother. It can also be mutually meaningful and beneficial for them to author letters, drawings and symbols that commemorate their relationship.

6. Agree on when and where each person in the family will say goodbye. No one wants to be stuck with the sense of having missed an opportunity. Also, if you decide to say goodbye on campus, keep in mind that your child is not likely to want much drama on display for others.

7. Give yourself a huge pat on the back (and maybe even a treat). Your shepherding has been effective enough to land your child in college. Way to go!!

(By the way, if your child is experiencing, or starts to experience, psychological symptoms keep in mind that most universities have a counseling center that offers free or low fee services. If the university has a graduate program in the mental health professions they may also have a training clinic on campus that offers outpatient care.)

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