You want to make sure they’ll be safe and healthy during their freshman year, but you also want to give them their space. How do you give your child the necessary freedom, yet still provide some parental advice and wisdom?
With some schools already in session and others soon to begin, we reached out to Dr. David Hall, an internal medicine and pediatrics doctor at Sharp Rees-Stealy Carmel Valley, for some helpful tips for both parents and students.
5 things to help your college student (and you) prepare for
- Making smart food choices
For starters, there is the matter of the dreaded “Freshman 15.” “Students need to learn to make eating choices at the dining hall and grocery store,” says Dr. Hall.
“They should focus on eating whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, chicken, fish, legumes, nuts and seeds — while avoiding prepacked or overly processed foods (most things that come in a bag or box) — and limit sugary drinks.”
- Developing a good exercise routine
“Walk or cycle to classes, take the stairs whenever possible and schedule dedicated exercise time for 30 minutes, five times a week,” he says. “If you’re short on time, apps such as the seven-minute workout can help you exercise at home and take little time to complete. Exercise releases certain chemicals in the brain that help with learning and memory, so having a routine exercise schedule can make studying more efficient.”
- Making time for sleep
“Studies have shown that getting adequate sleep can lead to improved grades, better memory and mood, a stronger immune system, and a lower risk of obesity,” says Dr. Hall.
He adds that most college students need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. He recommends keeping a routine sleep schedule: going to bed and waking up around the same time each day. Daily exercise and avoiding caffeinated beverages within six hours of bedtime can also help promote restorative sleep. The sleep environment should be cool, quiet and dark.
“Try using a fan, ear plugs or an eye mask, if needed,” says Dr. Hall.
- Taking care of their health
Another important issue during this transition is making sure health coverage is in order, vaccinations are current and medications are in place.
“Schedule a physical examination for your child prior to the school year,” says Dr. Hall. “During this visit, doctors make sure all routine vaccinations are up to date and answer any questions your child may have. For students with chronic medical conditions, talk with their primary care provider about management options while the student is at school, including medication refills and what to do if there is an active issue.”
While they are away at school, students should also consider having a video visit with their Sharp Rees-Stealy doctor. Nevertheless, they should be familiar with the services available at their student health office.
- Knowing how — and when — to let go
Finally, there is the big question of how often to communicate with your child while giving them the necessary space they need to flourish.
“Regular communication will be different for each family,” says Dr. Hall. “For some, it may be three times a week; for others, it may be three times a month. It is important to have a discussion before your child leaves for college to set those expectations. Give them the space to grow while knowing they can always reach out in times of need. Moreover, schedule visits in advance and avoid the urge to ‘pop in.’”
In any case, Dr. Hall recommends careful planning before your child heads out the door. Brainstorming with your child about how they will handle new responsibilities, such as eating healthy, studying, doing laundry and handling money, is paramount.
“Remind them that living away from home is a new experience and issues may arise,” says Dr. Hall. “At the same time, be sure to let them know that you are always just a phone call away, if they need advice or reassurance.”