college students in a row croppedWhen your child is a college-bound senior, you want him to be prepared so that when they enter college, they are part of the 50% that eventually graduates with a degree. You’ve spent years helping them with study skills, taught them right from wrong, and worked tirelessly to mold them into capable, academic young adult. They are just about at the finish line…preparing to graduate from high school and go off to college…your job is just about done!

But wait…in all that prepping for college, what about some of the lesser-known essential skills that students need before they head off for college? Skills like resiliency, self-advocacy, problem-solving, and resiliency. And being able to balance newfound independence with increased responsibilities. And basics like how or when to sleep, eat, shower, and do laundry. Not having these essential life skills can undermine any academic aptitude or test-taking tactics and have students packing up their dorm room and books before the Thanksgiving break!

So, as a parent, how do you help support your ADHD college student transitioning successfully to college without nagging or giving unwelcome advice? How do you continue to be part of their support system and provide guidance through these murky waters? The answer? Even before your son or daughter transitions to college, you become their coach. A parent coach, so to speak, who is supportive, motivating, empowering, and not nagging or judgmental. At this time in an ADHD student’s life, it’s time for parents to take a step back and land the helicopter so your student can take a step forward and take on responsibility for the academic AND life skills they will need at college. But how?

During the very limited months between high school senioritis and their first semester at college, parents need to take a back seat in a way that empowers their college-bound student. This is the time for them to test the waters gradually, on their own, so they can develop confidence in their resourcefulness and succeed in this most significant transition yet in their (and your) lives.

To help your transition from helpful parent to empowering parent coach, consider adding these ADHD coaching strategies to your parenting style:


  1. Replace caution with curiosity. You have done your job and taught your child how to stay safe and take care of himself, and now is the time to replace your words of caution with curiosity. For instance, rather than nagging your soon-to-be college freshman to stay on the lighted paths, make curfew or travel in pairs, ask them how they plan to stay safe on campus. What happens when you don’t make dorm curfew? Or, Who would be good to pair off with when it comes to socializing? Being curious, including and eliciting input, and problem-solving with your students makes them more fully committed, remembering, and following through. It might even reassure you that they have been paying attention all these years.
  1. Advocate self-advocacy. This is the time to practice letting go as parents and letting your student grow in the experience of taking responsibility and learning to self-advocate. Increased self-awareness of how they learn prepares them to enter college, ready to request accommodations if they need them. Taking on the job of scheduling and attending doctor’s appointments has them stepping up and owning their health. Becoming comfortable with small steps such as these will have them ready to navigate the more significant self-advocacy issues, such as creating their schedule with their counselor and setting ground rules with dorm mates.
  1. Replace “why” with “who, how, what, and when.” “Why” questions typically put anyone on the defensive, making us feel like we have to explain ourselves. Asking questions that do not start with “why” helps your student explore their solutions and practice their own problem-solving skills. Rather than asking, “Why are you taking beginning basket weaving in your first semester?” ask, “how will basket weaving help you reach your goals?” Or, “what is it about basket weaving that is interesting to you?” Or “who might you be able to talk with to find out about options similar to basket weaving?” Or “I wonder, when is the best time in your curriculum to take basket weaving.” Removing “why” from your vocabulary removes defensiveness from theirs.
  1. Encourage action. Taking one small action step as soon as possible is a good answer when uncertainty, overwhelm or indecision seem about to take over. The sooner your student can take even one small action step, the more likely they will use that momentum to solve whatever problem comes up. As a parent coach, you can brainstorm small steps your student can take when they feel stuck. For instance, “what is the outcome they want?” “What can they do today to take action” “What is one small step they can take today that would solve the dilemma?” “What information do they need to solve this problem,” or “who might be able to help them?” Of course, there are many ways your student will continue to need you to be involved. Still, that contribution encourages them to explore options that will move them forward, rather than you picking up the phone to call the college, dean, administration, etc.
  1. Know the rules, but let your student play the game. As your student’s parent coach, it is helpful if you are knowledgeable about some of the school’s policies, requirements, deadlines, administrative structure, etc. Your job is to enhance your student’s ability to be resourceful and point them to the place to find the information they need. For instance, if your student is unsure about registration dates, you might offer, “I noticed an academic calendar on the website. You might want to check it out.” Or perhaps they call in a panic, having forgotten their key and are locked out of their dorm room (it happens). It’s OK to acknowledge the problem with “how inconvenient” and then to ask them, “Who might have another key to your room?” or “Who might know how to get your room unlocked?” Or “Where can you hang out until your roommate arrives?” Remember that you are trying to help your student to be independent, use their resources, and be a problem solver. Chances are high they are not the first nor last to encounter certain troublesome situations.
  1. Keep communication open: Keep the lines of communication open. Being available to answer questions, respond to requested advice, or teach a new skill is very different from enabling and doing it for our soon-to-be adult children. Challenge yourself by remaining nonjudgmental and available for your child if they have questions. Remember to encourage their independence, problem-solving, resiliency, and resourcefulness as they explore their answers and help you stay out of the “nag” zone.

College is a fantastic time for both students and parents. As the responsibilities and relationships change, both sides are growing in new ways. Your student is entering one of the most exciting times of their lives. As a parent coach, supporting, empowering, and encouraging your student allows both of you to enjoy this journey.

I would love to hear about your experiences with your transition to college. Let me know what worked and what didn’t work for you below.


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