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It’s that time of year again, millions of young adults are making the transition to leave home and attend a university. Alongside them, millions of parents are fielding the gamut of emotions as they prep and watch their children fly from the nest for the first time.

Last year, an estimated 19.9 million students attended colleges and universities, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. In fact, recent trends indicate a growing diversity in the student population, with more non-traditional students and international enrollments, adding to the complexity of this transition for families.

And while it’s true that the number of students heading “off” to college might be a little less than in previous years, the weight of this life transition is still the same.

So whether your child has opted for distance learning, chosen to attend a school closer to home, or will attend a school across the country, use these four coping strategies to help you get a handle on the change. However, if you find yourself struggling and needing someone to talk to then please reach out to a licensed professional counselor.

1. Know That It’s Perfectly Normal and OK to Feel Sad

First, remember that this is a BIG transition. We know that sometimes it seems like in the blink of an eye, your child went from infant to young adult, ready to take on the world, and you just can’t figure out where the time went. Remind yourself that it’s OK to feel sad and it’s perfectly normal! Trust that your years of hard work bringing up your child, teaching him or her life’s little and big lessons, and preparing them for this transition has been enough.

If you find yourself having difficulty letting go of your feelings of sadness or even moving into depression after a few weeks, it might be a good idea to find a trained therapist and get counseling to help you work through your feelings. According to the Pew Research Center, it’s not uncommon for parents to experience a range of emotions, including a sense of loss, which can be profound for some.

2. Keep Calm and Let the Plan Take Hold

Alongside with your child, you have no doubt read undergraduate guides, dorm reminders, class schedules, dining hall tips, dorm room shopping lists, and maybe even gone on an information overload to prep for moving day. Take a moment and remember that you’ve likely done everything you can to help craft the transition plan and that now is the right time to let it take hold. Let all your planning play out and relax, knowing things will oftentimes naturally evolve and you can make adjustments to the “plan” as it rolls out.

3. Let Them Fly and Remind Them (and Yourself!) That You’re Still Close By

Your child, whether you’re ready for it or not, is now a young adult who can make decisions on his or her own, advocate for themselves, and take care of themselves. It’s important now to take just a little step back and let them shine while, of course, reminding them (and yourself) that you’re still close by. Letting go even just a little bit is always tough and often feels strange. Counseling can help you cope with this if you need help. Make sure to stay connected with your child and ensure that they know you’re there to help with any difficulties that arise. Now is their time to fly with a little more independence – and it’s your time to admire your child’s strength in all they have become and their drive to bravely step out on their own.

college student

4. Take Time to Focus on Your Self-Care and Your Needs After the Transition

Remember self-care? It may have been a few years since you have focused on your needs and your goals. What are your dreams? Are there hobbies you’ve taken a step away from since becoming a parent and raising children? The so-called ‘empty nest’ period doesn’t have to carry a negative spin along with it. Use this time to reconnect with your spouse, resume a loved hobby or start a new one, focus on your career goals or personal goals, or simply relax into rest and regrouping. It’s OK to let yourself do these things and can be therapeutic as you handle the range of emotions you feel in letting your child step out into the world.

How a Therapist Can Help During the Holidays

5. Need a Little More Help Working Through Your Feelings? Reach Out to Our Therapists

Need a little more help adjusting to this new phase of life? Many of our therapists are parents and caregivers of college-age kids and some of us have experienced the ‘empty nest’ change first-hand. Our counselors are specially trained to help clients work through difficult emotions surrounding phase of life issues. We’re here for you and we want to help. Learn more about our approach and reach out to us anytime.

In addition to these strategies, it’s beneficial to engage in community or support groups where you can share experiences and gain insights from others going through similar transitions. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, support groups can provide a sense of belonging and help reduce feelings of isolation during significant life changes. Furthermore, engaging in volunteer work or community service can also be a fulfilling way to redirect your energy and focus during this period of adjustment.

Remember, each family’s journey is unique, and it’s important to find what works best for you and your family during this time of change. Embrace this new chapter with an open heart and mind, and know that it’s a time of growth for both you and your child.

FAQs on Coping with Your Child Leaving for University

Q: How long does it typically take to adjust to the empty nest syndrome?
A: The adjustment period varies greatly from person to person. Some may start feeling better in a few weeks, while others might take several months. It’s important to allow yourself to process these changes at your own pace. If you find it particularly challenging, seeking support from a psychologist, therapist, or a support group can be beneficial.

Q: Is it normal to feel guilty for feeling relieved when my child leaves for college?
A: Absolutely. It’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions, including relief. This doesn’t mean you love your child any less. It’s a sign that you’re also acknowledging your own needs and the change in your daily responsibilities, which can indeed bring a sense of relief.

Q: How can I maintain a good relationship with my child while they are away at university?
A: Maintaining open communication is key. Regular check-ins via phone calls, texts, or video chats can help, but also respect their independence and new schedule. It’s a delicate balance between staying connected and giving them space to grow.

Q: What are some productive ways to utilize the extra time I now have?
A: This is an excellent opportunity to rediscover old hobbies or explore new interests. Consider joining clubs, volunteering, or taking classes that interest you. Focusing on personal goals, whether they are career-related or personal development, can also be fulfilling.

Q: I’m struggling with a sense of loss now that my child has left for university. Is this normal?
A: Yes, it’s very normal. This transition can feel like a significant loss and it’s okay to grieve. Acknowledge your feelings and give yourself time to adjust. If these feelings become overwhelming or persistent, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health professional for support.

Remember, it’s a significant transition not just for your child, but for you as well. Embracing this new phase with patience and self-compassion is crucial. If you have more questions or need additional support, don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals who can guide you through this journey.

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