Parents, I promise, you will make it to the other side of this entire college application process! Perhaps, April of senior year is the the second most stressful month after the first day of kindergarten? The same emotions swirl: will my little one be safe and okay? We get to choose day care or preschool environments for our kids, but public (or even private) education is a completely different situation.
What makes this new round of letting go better? Your child. You have a partner who just so happens to be the one with the food allergies and/or asthma! In kindergarten, you managed policy, parents, teachers, administrators, other kids and your own little cherub. Now, your management needs have morphed into your work to guide the person who is the center of all of this fuss! You have been elevated to guide. Phew. What a journey it has been.
Looking forward to the end of my son’s freshman year, I can say that I am breathing easier while knowing everything can change instantly, he has the same tools in his pocket that I have been using for the last twelve years. He was well equipped when we hugged and sent him off to college.
Let’s talk tools to help you get through this month and beyond without the need to drink good wine, chocolate milkshakes or to buy new coffee or tea cups to eat treats on. Oh wait, doesn’t everyone stress thrift store shop for teacups and plates?
Tips for choosing the right college when you are managing food and/or environmental allergies, asthma or need a gluten-free diet.
- Establish basic academic criteria. What are the must-haves versus the nice-to-haves? Establish your deal breakers for academics, environment and learning.
- Outline health and safety requirements. Based on your student’s needs, establish those same deal breakers. Does your child need access to medical care beyond the campus health center? Are grocery stores with safe food important? Can your student live in a single dorm room, often called medical singles? Is this what their health needs require. What is the local air quality if you are dealing with asthma, could an in room air filter help? Think about your student’s typical day and write up your list of those must-haves vs nice-to-haves.
- Contact the campus disability office. Reach out with your medical questions regarding housing and roommate choices, dining services and emergency response. This gave us the biggest peace of mind. At the time my son submitted his acceptance to college, he had already spoken to the recruiter about accommodations and was in touch with the person managing disabilities. Even though a firm system was not in place, my son felt confident that the school was committed to working with him. Once he accepted, we made the journey to the college to meet face-to-face with the dining services staff to work on the fall plans and to discuss if a medical single or roommate situation would work best.
- Create good questions to ask. Allergic Living Magazine created the, “US Colleges Directory: Comparing Allergy and Gluten Free Policies”, which outlines the questions the writer asked of Sodexo, Aramark and Compass – the top three college food service providers. Even if you don’t need a college guide, you might be inspired by what criteria was compared to create this important tool.
- Talk. Then talk some more to your student. Create a safe and comfortable space for your student to share what feels uncomfortable and then address those issues. Do they want to stay close to home? Close to medical care? Are they worried about having a roommate who, “may not get it”. Once the issues are out on the table, they can be discussed and the path to solutions is in place.
- Talk to other parents. My sanity came from my own food allergy mentors and other parents who already have kids in college. Logically, we know they will be okay. Emotionally, it takes harder to get to that point. Especially, if we feel our kids are not taking the same actions we would. I was advised that the best I can do is “give ’em tools”. For me, the tools were articles and real life stories. I’ll be posting more about stories that had impact.
- Give yourself space. Give yourself space to feel sad, most parents feels some strong emotion when their kids head off to college- without or without allergies or other health conditions. Use whatever methods resonate to process your feelings and then keep moving forward!
- Celebrate! Whip out some decorations, a fun meal or something special and celebrate your child’s choice. Rejoice in the new beginning and adventure that you have just spent the last twelve years preparing for!
Think back to kindergarten, things were smooth, things were bumpy but today, you are here. You made it! Today is a wiser kindergarten when letting go means your child is now in the driver’s seat, equipped with medications, knowledge and excitement! How refreshing is this?