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Challenge: Back to School 2020

Dropping Your Child Off at College During COVID-19

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You’ve been dreading it, and if we’re being completely honest, counting the days until their moody self is out of the house. The time has finally come to drop your student off at college. Conflicting emotions? Check. Car packed to the brim with more stuff than they could possibly need? Check. A global pandemic? Wait – this isn’t how it is supposed to be. Read on for tips on what to expect when you drop your student off at college in the midst of COVID-19.

Move In – Only One Family Member Allowed

In an effort to mitigate risks, universities are limiting the number of family members allowed in the dorms during move-in. Decide in advance who will be the designated person for your family and plan accordingly.

However, if you or your student feel strongly about having both parents/guardians or siblings there to say goodbye, then by all means make it a family affair. Just know that whoever isn’t hauling belongings up the stairs or in the elevator needs to find a place to hang out and wait patiently for the moving portion of the day to be over. Plan to read a book or listen to a podcast to make the time pass so you don’t dwell on the magnitude of the moment.

Saying Goodbye – Let Your Child Be Your Guide

Prior to the big day, ask your student how they would like to say goodbye. If they envision going out to lunch or dinner after move-in, research restaurants in their college town that offer outdoor dining or takeout options. Be sure to check for reduced hours due to COVID, so you’re not caught off guard.

If your college student has more of the “drop and go” mentality, then agree on a spot outside of their residence hall where you can have a quiet moment together. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to hide your feelings or say exactly the right thing. Simply give them a hug, tell them how much you love them and let the tears flow freely. Just save the full-blown ugly cry for when you’re back in the solitude of your car.

Expect the Unexpected – Classes Going Online

Regardless of whether your student is attending college where classes are happening in person, online, or via a hybrid approach, prepare them in advance for the possibility of classes going entirely online at some point. University administrators and health departments will be keeping a close eye on any increase in COVID-19 cases throughout the semester. And given the density of college students in residence halls and on campus, it remains a very real possibility that universities could move all classes online or even send students home at some point in the semester.

Have a discussion with your student in advance about the need to be flexible and open-minded about the possibility of moving home for a portion of the semester. By setting realistic expectations in advance, you can help reduce the amount of disappointment if their first year of college doesn’t turn out to be as bucolic as they had originally hoped.

Ways to Stay Connected

After you return home and your student begins their college experience away from you, there will likely be times that tug on both of your hearts. Especially during the uncertainty of a nationwide pandemic. Find ways to connect with your student to set your mind at ease about their health and to make them feel your presence from afar.

One idea is to hide an envelope under their pillow when you move them into their dorm. I did this for both of my kids. Inside was a heartfelt letter about how proud I was of them, accompanied by a gift card to their favorite restaurant, walking distance from campus. This is just one way to show that even though you are separated by distance, you’re always with them in spirit.

Other ideas include care packages with favorite foods from home, texts of the family pet or a sunrise or sunset photo from your porch. The key is to give them space, and not require a daily phone call or even a text. Just let them know you’re still there whenever they need you.

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