13 things to do with your kids before they leave for college

June 4, 2013 at 2:16 PM ET

Things to Do With Your Kids Before College
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Things to Do With Your Kids Before College

The flurry of proms, senior parties and graduation ceremonies at the end of high school can distract you from the reality that soon you'll have a vacant bedroom in your house. But as you get into summer, there's no denying the bittersweet realization that you're about to be a parent of a college student. Here are some sweet and smart ways to make the most out of this time together.

Look at Their Baby Photos

Where did the time go? Paging through old photo albums will help you remember. From those first steps to that first swim meet to the seriously tragic haircut, you'll both marvel at how far she's come.

Get Together With the Grandparents

Once your child heads off, it can be tough to cram in lots of quality time when they're home for the holidays. Have your child visit with his grandparents and really talk, not as child to adult, but grown-up to grown-up. What's the best advice they ever got? What was the hardest decision they had to make? How did they meet? Grandparents won't be around forever, so encourage your kids to ask some of the big questions now.

Take an Extended Family Photo
There likely won't be another opportunity for quite some time to get everyone together. Start with a photo of your immediate family and see if you can get one with grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. Having a photo of your whole clan will be as much comfort to you as it will be to your child while he's away at school.

Have "The Talk"
Though it won't be the easiest conversation you have this summer, it's important to talk about how to stay safe at school. That means a discussion about what it means to drink alcohol responsibly if you're going to drink, that underage drinking is illegal and how using a fake ID is a felony in many states. It's also critical to stress the importance of being safe about dating and sex—for both girls and boys. Talk about sexual pressure, the dangers of going home with someone you don't know and/or drinking too much, date rape and date-rape drugs.

Let Him Know You're Their 911

It's easy for kids to forget that you're still there to help even when they're not at home. Tell your child not to hesitate to call if he needs you, whether he has a killer case of the flu or finds himself stranded at a party with dangerously drunk friends. Make sure kids realize you are available—24/7—even in another state. (And it doesn't hurt to add that you want to hear from him regularly, even if he just has a few minutes for a quick hello on the way to class.)

Reassure Them the Adjustment to College Isn't Immediate
Many grads expect that college will be movie-perfect from the moment they set foot on campus, but that's not always the case. It's normal for freshmen to feel homesick and find it hard to live on their own while keeping up with classwork. Tell him it's okay if he doesn't rule the school after a month, and to give himself time to find his group. College is a big pond, after all.

Teach Them How to Cook Five Easy Dinners
Though many students will live in a dorm their first year, some offer stoves and communal places to cook. School your kid in a few basic dishes, like tuna noodle casserole with potato chip topping to more nutritious options, like stir fried vegetables with brown rice. This is also a good time to chat about healthy eating and why it's not a good idea to indulge in too much late-night pizza.

Write A Letter To Your Child

This should be a real take stock moment, where you reflect on paper how your child has become and all the steps it took to get there. Either give it to her before she heads to college or hand it to her as you say goodbye, and ask her to read it later. When she's having a bad day—or just feeling lost among the 300 students in Sociology 101—pulling it out will be a great comfort.

Introduce Your Child To the Laundry Machine—If They Haven't Met!
If you haven't showed your child how to wash clothes yet, this should be a priority #1. Spend an afternoon showing him the basics of separating whites and darks and how the temperature gauges work. You don't want them learning the hard way that hot water and drying clothes on the heaviest setting will shrink their favorite tee.

Take a One-On-One Trip
This can be with just you or your husband, but not both. The point, whether it's just a weekend away or a longer trip, is distraction-free bonding. This might be a great opportunity to have the talks in #4 and #5, and to begin the evolution of your relationship as two adults.

Have a Potluck with the Families of Your Child's Closest Friends

Though your child may not be able to imagine life without his closest high school friends in it, it's easy lose touch when everyone goes their separate ways. But no one knows you quite like your childhood friends. A casual get-together gives kids one last opportunity to cement a bond—and make plans for Thanksgiving break.

Savor the Moment
Things get kind of hectic checking off all those pre-college to-dos, so make sure you stop to take in ordinary little moments with your child. Eavesdrop on them while they're talking with their siblings. Be a spectator when they're shooting hoops with friends. And try not to sweat the small stuff, turning a blind eye (for now) to dishes left in the sink or towels thrown on the bathroom floor. Once your child's gone, you may even find you miss the mess.

Tell Them That You Love Them
Sure, you've said it zillions of times over the years, but it's especially important when you're saying goodbye. A reminder of a parents' unconditional love might be just what an anxious college freshman needs to hear.

Julie Halpert is a freelance journalist based in Michigan. Follow her on Twitter at @julhalps.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.