How to Mentally Cope With a Child Leaving for College

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If you’re struggling with your child leaving for college, you’re not alone. Many parents deal with emotions like distress, sadness, and confusion when it’s time for their children to leave the nest. This post outlines some of the challenges parents may face when their child goes away to college and it offers some tips for dealing with these emotions.

Challenges Parents Face When Their Child Goes to College

When your child is about to go to college, whether that college is minutes away from you or hundreds of miles, it’s normal to feel strange. You may be dealing with thoughts and feelings you haven’t before because you’ve never been in a similar situation.

Most parents feel sad when their child leaves for college. They’ve been living under your roof for about 18 years, and, suddenly, they’re moving on. You may have fantasized about this moment during times of frustration and found yourself thinking, “I can’t wait until my child leaves for college.” Now, you’re looking back on those tough moments and realizing they maybe weren’t so bad after all.

You’ve probably heard of the term “empty nest syndrome,” which refers to when children are out of the house for the first time as adults. You’re suddenly dealing with more time to yourself than you’ve had since your child was born. Noisy dinners are quieter, mornings before work and school are less chaotic, and you may wonder what to do with your extra time while simultaneously missing your child’s presence.

It’s essential to find the right balance between staying supportive of your child in college and also letting them go. You have spent years helping your child learn and grow, perhaps neglecting part of your own life for their success and happiness. It’s time to recognize this change in your relationship with your child and build positive ways to stay connected while also allowing them to make their own mistakes.

What to Say to Your Child Leaving for College

You want to say the right thing as your child prepares to leave for college. Of course, you know your child best, but here are some suggestions for conversation starters or general words of encouragement you can share.

  • You’re Ready – Remind them that they’re ready for the next step and that challenges are a way to grow.
  • Discomfort is Normal – Growth can be uncomfortable, so expect some discomfort, but remember you’re never alone.
  • Join In – Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, join clubs, get involved, etc., for the best chance of them meeting exciting new people and having a fulfilling college experience.
  • Respect Yourself and Others – Remind them to take care of themselves. New friends and opportunities can bring chances for risky behavior, but they know how to stay true to themselves.
  • We’re Here – Tell them you’ll be there for them no matter what, and you’re always a phone call away. Tell them that you’re not going anywhere as they go through this change.
  • Don’t Worry About Us – Reassure them that they don’t need to worry about you or your partner. They have enough to worry about!
  • We Trust You – You’ve instilled within them the qualities you want to see in a responsible adult. Remind them that you trust them.
  • We’re Proud – You can never over emphasize enough how proud you are of your children. Small words of encouragement go a long way.
  • We’ll Miss You – Don’t hide your emotions from your child. They’ll see through it. It’s okay to tell them that you’ll miss them.
  • We Love You – Always remind your child that you love them.

How To Process With the Change

How do you, as a parent, actually deal with your child going away to college? Here’s some advice.

  • Plan Ahead – Know ahead of time that you may need extra support as your child prepares to leave for college and after they make the move. Consider taking some time off of work to take care of yourself. Additionally, consider any logistics that will help make the transition easier. Do you need to help your child pack and purchase things? Would it be helpful to make the drive to campus with your child to get familiar with things? Planning ahead for these aspects will make the transition less stressful.
  • Show Love and Support – Feigning aloofness may not be the best choice in this situation. It’s okay if you get emotional. Explain to your child that you’re emotional because this is such a big step and because they mean a lot to you. Even if they roll their eyes, they’ll remember how supportive you were.
  • Be Patient and Kind – You may have moments where you wish all the hard feelings would just go away. Certainly, that would make things easier, but you can’t force your emotions to leave. Give yourself time and kindness to work through anything you’re feeling.
  • Think Positively and Optimistically – Imagining the worst-case scenario isn’t helpful for your mental health or your child’s well-being. Prepare as best as you can, and recognize some things are out of your control.
  • Identify and Embrace New Roles – Now is the time to re-discover yourself. If you’ve been waiting for the children to go off to college to travel, go back to school, try a new hobby, or otherwise embrace a new role in your life, it’s time to dive in!
  • Embrace New Challenges – Remember when you encouraged your child to try new experiences while they’re in college? Take your own advice! We’re always growing as humans, and you can also find new challenges in life that help you grow.
  • Make Plans to Visit – Make sure you schedule time to visit your child. Maybe there is a parents’ weekend, or perhaps you plan to attend a big athletic event with your family to support your child. Remind them that they’re also welcome back home at any time.
  • Use Technology – You have a cell phone for a reason! A quick call, video call, or text asking how your child’s day or week went is a good way to stay in touch.
  • Don’t Be Invasive – Try not to be overbearing with your child. Calling after every class or checking their location every 30 minutes isn’t helpful for you or your child.
  • Reconnect With Your Partner – Use some of your newfound time to reconnect with your partner or spouse. It’s a time to congratulate yourself on the amazing child you raised and celebrate your success as a parent.
  • Seek Support – Stay in touch with your family and friends, as they are your support. Perhaps a friend is going through the same thing with their child, and you plan to get dinner and discuss your challenges. Loop in your family to your plans and your child’s successes. You deserve the support that you need.
  • Give Yourself Credit – It’s a difficult process for many people. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you make mistakes or feel overwhelmed. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best to navigate this unfamiliar territory.

Sometimes, life’s challenges bring about more emotional turmoil than you can handle on your own. The transition of a child leaving for college is a major life event.

Therapy can help you sort through your emotions and navigate this new step in life. All Counseling can help you connect with a mental health professional who fits your needs. Use our directory of therapists and counselors to search for a mental health professional in your area that specializes in life transitions, family therapy, or stress management.