When you escort your high school grad to college, you may think your job of parenting them is finished—think again. They still need you, but in different ways. Here are a few ways to support your graduate.

  • Help them understand their emotional upheaval: Any time anyone approaches a transition or leap in development, we tend to fall apart, feel out of sorts and experience a myriad of feelings. My old mentor Dr. T. Berry Brazelton called these periods touch points. New grads tend to have a foot in the future while still maintaining one in their past. They can’t wait to shake off the dust of their boring hometown, yet are anxious about the uncertainty of the next leg of their journey. Normalize all of their emotions: happy, excited, freedom and independence as well as uncertainty, fear and sadness at leaving their family and friends. What is unexpressed becomes unmanageable, so encourage them to express all of their emotions in healthy ways.
  • Continue to be a safe base: Remember going to a family gathering when your child was a toddler and observing them cling to your leg until they got comfortable. Then they’d walk off and play for a while, returning to your side occasionally to get some comfort. Your job then was to receive them warmly, smile and give them the reassurance that they were safe and you were confident in their leaving your side to explore the world. That same pattern still holds true for your recent grad. When they looks at you in moments of uncertainty or fear, what they needs to see is your calm, reassuring face that says, “You’ve got this. I’m here if you really need me, but I have full faith you are ready for this next step.”
  • Let go of knowing what’s best for them: Letting go is a process, and it’s never too late to start. It’s time for your graduate to take responsibility for knowing what’s right for them using their intuition and inner voice. Parents need to become more of a consultant versus a manager or micromanager. Young adults need to make their own mistakes, problem-solve, and overcome challenges to gain confidence and self-efficacy. It’s called growing up.
  • Learn to connect in different ways: When your young adult leaves the nest, your relationship with them will never be the same. That’s why graduates and their parents feel a sense of loss. But your bond with them can grow into a richer, more equal one. It’s incredibly fulfilling to watch the fruits of your labor as they find their path and purpose. Have talks with your grad about what your relationship can look like as they become an adult.
  • Ask your graduate how to support them: Their needs will continually change, and thus how they want to be supported will as well. Kids have a responsibility to teach you all along the way what feels annoying versus what feels supportive. Listen well and respect their wishes and boundaries.

High school graduation is just one step in your child’s long process of growing up. Mindfully follow these five ways of supporting them and enjoy the ride.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who counsels girls aged grade school through college. Listen to his weekly podcast, Raising Daughters, to gain information on raising strong, resilient girls. For more information on Dr. Jordan’s retreats, summer camps and books visit drtimjordan.com