How To Cope When Your Child Leaves For College

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It’s the second week of August which means for many families their college-aged children will be leaving home to go to school, many for the first time. This can be a difficult transition for young people, which deserves a blog post all of its own, but today I want to focus on the experience for parents.

One important thing to remember–this is a time of many emotions, often those that conflict with one another. On one hand you feel proud and excited for your son and daughter, while simultaneously feeling scared and worried for them. Will they make good decisions? Will they remember to do their homework? What will they do if they run into a problem? Processing these feelings by talking to your spouse or a friend is a good strategy to navigate this transition. Finding a friend who has already been through the situation of sending a child off to college may be an especially good person to be a sounding board for you.

Your son or daughter is likely feeling the same way–perhaps excited, but also nervous and unsure. They may like the idea of their newfound independence, but also worried the safety net of a parent in close proximity is no longer there. The best thing you can do as the parent is acknowledge and validate their feelings. Remind them it’s normal to feel this way and their peers who are leaving for college are most likely having a similar experience. Simply saying “I understand that you are excited and worried at the same time” can be a powerful statement which can provide some sense of relief for your child.

Another thing to consider–any time there is a life transition, it can be considered a loss. Often times we think of “losses” as when someone passes away, but really it can be anything we “lose” in our lives. In this situation, you will no longer have a child at home living full time with you. Thinking about how this impacts your life is important. Maybe this is your last child at home and you are now experiencing the “empty nest.” Maybe this means you suddenly have lots of free time and aren’t sure what to do to fill it. Ultimately this leads to the concept of identity. Is your identity somehow different now that your child is away at school? Spend some time thinking about this and how you can make the most of this new phase of your life.

This may be a great opportunity for you to do some things you may not have had time for before. Try a new hobby or volunteer your time. Although this new life may bring about some sad things (like not having your child around all the time to spend quality time with them), try focusing on the positives.

Are you the parent of a new college student? Here is some advice in an article from Forbes Magazine.

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Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.