Tips for Parents Sending Their Kids Off to College

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — July 31, 2019 — 3 min read
Children leaving home for college is a time of significant change in the life of a family that is sure to be filled with excitement, worry, and tears. This period can be particularly stressful for parents as they may experience multiple transitions including middle age and/or caring for aging parents.

First, you’re not alone. Each year in the United States, about 2.2 million first-time freshmen head off to college, leaving a lot of parents behind to worry about how it’s going and wonder what now for themselves.

Remember that anxiety can be something that is overcome with open communication, breathing techniques, and role playing, but if it doesn’t get easier with those techniques, then it may be time to seek professional help.

Here are some steps you can take to ease the transition and help with anxiety about sending your child off to college:
  • Reconnect: Parents who are getting ready to have no kids at home should think about reconnecting with their spouse/loved ones.
  • Stay busy: Join meet-up groups, volunteer at schools/previous extracurricular activities that your kids were involved in, and set-up regular times to talk to/visit your college-bound children.
  • Encourage independence: You’ve probably heard the term “helicopter parents.” These are parents who take an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children. If you think you may be a helicopter parent, and your child is attending college, especially for the first time, try to encourage independence while at the same time being supportive. Your older teen needs to learn how to take responsibility for their own successes and failures. No longer will you be able to help them with homework or staying on task. If you are concerned about them, encourage them to contact the college counseling center, a college resource center, or their advisor for assistance.
  • Connect with friends: Having an “empty nest” can be a big deal depending on your current activity level and relationships or connectedness with others. On the other hand, some parents find that they have a sense of relief or even happiness in response to new found freedom. Of course, most parents experience feelings that lie somewhere in the middle.
  • When to seek help: If you as a parent are experiencing a great deal of anxiety about your child leaving home, know that some amount of anxiety and even sadness in “normal.” If anxiety or depression is debilitating and affecting your functioning, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional assistance from a counselor or therapist.

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Psychologists Patricia Babin, PhD and PharmD, and Dawn O’Malley, PsyD, contributed to this article.
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