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University students: How much space do they need?

Your child has embarked on their first year of university, and you’re struggling with how much space to give them. You don’t want to crowd them, but you also don’t want your child to feel alone. You’re stuck asking yourself: How much is too much?

Learn when to back off
College student

Trial and error

Unfortunately there’s no tried-and-true rule as to how much you should communicate with your child once they leave for university. Every parent-child relationship is different, and that means how much each of you will want to connect with the other will be unique. Family Education suggests that “a natural rhythm of connecting with each other will evolve over time.” By being aware of your child’s responses, you can get a good sense of whether they need more space or whether the times you call or write are especially appreciated. If you find they sound impatient on the phone or take a long time to respond to messages, they may be feeling crowded. However, if you find your child is often the one reaching out, it may very well be that they’re still getting used to the transition and like being able to chat with you.

Don’t be shy

Although you obviously don’t want your child to feel as though you aren’t giving them enough space, it doesn’t hurt to check in. Family Education advises that this is particularly important in the first week. You don’t have to ask about every detail of their new life; just letting your child know you’re still there whenever they need you will be enough.

By being the first to reach out, you assure them that the lines of communication don’t have to close just because they’re becoming an adult. Many children want to feel grown up and independent, and this may cause them to hold off on calling you even if they know it would be helpful. So don’t be afraid to do a quick check-in every week or so to let them know you still care.

Use your resources

Fortunately our means to communicate today are far more varied than they were in decades past. That means you have a multitude of tools at your disposal to communicate effectively without it being too much. For instance, your child may feel frustrated if you call several times throughout the day. But if you send a couple of emails, they can respond at their leisure. That way you get to remain informed, and they don’t feel suffocated. You can also rely on Skype when the two of you are missing each other and need some face-to-face time, and you can play around with texting for quick and efficient questions or confirmations. With so many modes of communication at your disposal, it’s possible to continue your relationship in a way that works for both of you.


Chances are your child is excited to feel independent and will be eager to do things on their own. But that doesn’t mean a gift here and there won’t be appreciated! Plus, it will serve as a pleasant reminder that you’re giving them the space they need but will always be around to take care of them when they need it. A handwritten letter with a gift card to Tim Hortons or Starbucks will be a welcome treat. Or consider putting together a care package for exam time, with some of the things you know they rely on when studying. These are great ways to allow your child to grow on their own while still remembering the love they have back home.

Be honest

As with virtually all parenting situations, a little honesty goes a long way. Simply stating “I’m always here if you need me” can help instill the fact that you’re giving them the space they need but aren’t going anywhere. Chances are (though they may not readily admit it), knowing they have someone to count on will mean a lot.

More parenting tips

Preparing teens for living on their own in university
Budget-friendly dorm decorating
Teaching your teen about time management

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