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Tips for Surviving Your Child's Transition from High School to College

Tips For Surviving Your Child’s Transition from High School to College

You’ve carried your child’s last bag into their dorm room, and there’s nothing left to do but say goodbye. You’re proud of your child starting college, but you don’t want to let them go. The last thing you feel like doing is facing an emptier house, knowing they don’t live with you anymore.

The transition from high school to college is a big one for both you and your child. You’ll feel a mix of pride, loneliness, and disorientation as you adjust to a new kind of family life. It’s a major change, and it’s normal to feel more emotional than usual.

But if you find yourself preoccupied with worry or feeling down more days than not, you may need extra support. These and other issues could be a sign of anxiety or depression, especially if you experience them for at least two to three weeks at a time.

This guide will show you how to take care of yourself and get through the adjustment.

Face the music and prepare yourself

Move-in day may be tough, so plan ahead to make the first few days without them a bit easier. Have a date night, meet up with friends, or dive into a home improvement project. Get distracted for a few days and take good care of yourself.

Go ahead and grieve

It’s OK to grieve over the change and transition. You’re losing physical and emotional closeness with your child. You know it’s time for them to move on, but it’ll sting anyway. Stay honest with yourself and remember that these ups and downs are normal.

See the positives of this transition

Flip the script and look at the upsides of this transition. You don’t have to keep as much food around now, and there’s one less load of laundry to wait for. Everyone has a little more space to move around the house. When visiting your child at college, he or she can show you the local sites, attend sporting events with you, and meet up at their favorite restaurant.

Celebrate their news and activities

It's your child's time to shine, so celebrate their stories and new adventures. You raised them to be independent, and going to college is a big step toward that. It's understandable to feel conflicted, wanting closeness while encouraging them to make their own path. You helped them achieve this step towards adulthood. Find the joy in those moments.

Give them some space

When you and your child live under the same roof, you’re used to hearing them come in and out. This changes when your child moves away. They're busy adjusting to school, making friends, and finding their own way. If you feel worried or anxious because you aren’t hearing from them, talk to a friend or fellow college-student parent for support.

Plan a visit

Plan your first visit a few weeks or months down the road. Give them some time to adjust before coming down, if you can. If your child went out of state to school, your face-to-face visits might be few and far between. In that case, plan some regular video chats to fill the gap. Scheduling a visit gives you something to do besides waiting for their next text or call.

Share your struggle with someone who’s been there

Don’t keep these emotions bottled up for long. Find other parents you know who are sending their child off this year and swap stories. Lean on a friend who’s already been through this. They can help you see what lies ahead after the initial sting wears off. It can take a while to get used to the new normal.

Don’t let the first goodbye get dramatic

The first goodbye has a lot of build-up behind it. You’ve seen this coming since they were born, and everything changes after this. Even so, try to see this as a shift in your relationship, not the end. They won’t enjoy a lingering, emotional goodbye, and neither will you. It’s OK to show your feelings, but make sure the moment is short and sweet so you can each move forward.

Keep life moving for the rest of the family

If you have younger children, remember that they still need your attention. Keep up with their lives with energy and focus, just as you did when your college-age child was younger. With fewer people in the house, you can spend a little more time with everyone.

The Transition to Young Adulthood

Life transitions are a double-edged sword, especially for you as a parent. You’ve pushed your child to grow and become independent, but it can hurt when they finally leave the nest. If you feel anxious, overcome with sadness, or have trouble sleeping, you may need more support to get through this transition. Anxiety and depression can occur with major life changes, so it may help to talk with a mental health professional for counseling or medication support. Psychologists and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) are mental health professionals who provide counseling and psychotherapy for emotional problems like this, while psychiatrists are mental health professionals who provide medication support for the same problems. With some planning, perspective, and maybe a little help from others, you can get through this emotional journey in one piece.

Dr. Michael Messina

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