Parents can help to smooth their child’s move to university

Leaving home for university is a stressful time for students, but it can be just as traumatic for their parents. However, Debora Green, the assistant director of Student Services at the University of Sheffield, says that there are ways in which parents can make the transition from home to university easier for their child – and for themselves as well.

"Coming to university is a big change for students," she says. "I often liken it to going to a foreign country. Nothing works quite the way that students are used to, so they are often anxious. If the parents are anxious too, that exacerbates the situation."

It's natural for parents to worry, Green says, but they should try to support rather than interfere when their child is settling in. "An over-present parent can make life more difficult for the student," she says. "We've had parents turn up and intervene if students aren't getting on in the flat. We've even had parents sleeping in their child's room. Nobody is going to make friends with someone whose mum is with them."

This is an extreme example, but all parents need to be aware of overstaying their welcome. "Even if your child is anxious and doesn't want you to go, try and separate," Green says. "If you're staying for the weekend, let your child brave it out for the first evening, and arrange to meet for lunch the day after."

Despite the rise of "helicopter parents", mums and dads who descend on universities to sort out the problems of their offspring, parents have no right to interfere with their child's university education. "It isn't like school. Universities will not ring them up if their child doesn't turn up to a lecture. Parents are not even allowed to see their child's record.

"This can be hurtful to some parents: they might not consider their 18- or 19-year-old to be an adult, but the law says that they are. It's an uncomfortable situation for universities. We court parents a lot these days. Departments put on talks solely for parents during open days, and encourage parents to have a relationship with them. But once the student is at university, we can't tell their parents anything," Green says.

This does not mean that universities cannot offer help or support to parents, however. "Universities can listen to the concerns of parents and tell them what we would do in such situations. Most universities will have a 'parents' section on their website, full of advice and links. But universities cannot give up any information about the student."

Parents with children going through Clearing can take some simple steps to reduce the stress for them and their child. "Visit the university before 'intro week'," Green advises. "Seeing it for the first time when thousands of people are arriving is stressful. Universities run open days at the end of August for students going through Clearing. Read everything the university sends you really thoroughly.

"It may be that your child is hanging on to the disappointment of not getting into where they originally wanted to go. Tell them that they should not see it as second best. It could be much better than they think."

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