You’ve spent the summer helping your teen gear up for college — purchasing dorm necessities, registering for classes and buying books. Your teen is ready for the next chapter of their life, but are you ready for this life-altering change?
It’s perfectly natural for parents to feel anxiety as kids prepare to leave the nest — whether it’s their first child or fourth. Contrary to what many believe, separation anxiety isn’t just for young kids headed off to preschool. Parents of college-age kids may feel a sense of loss or struggle with relinquishing control.
“It can be very hard to let go,” said Dr. Natalie Jedacek, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, Medina. “It’s the first opportunity to let your child be an adult and do things on their own without you.”
So, how can you manage your own fears and worries, while supporting your teen as she explores a whole new world without you? Dr. Jedacek offers 5 strategies for a smoother transition for the both of you.
Plan ahead to ease worries
A lack of preparation will increase a parent’s anxiety. Set up a practice run of your child’s schedule, meet the roommate or resident assistant, and preregister with a provider or transfer prescriptions if your child has a chronic illness. You also may need to make accommodations for kids with severe allergies or asthma, such as air-conditioned dorms, to avoid triggers.
Dr. Jedacek reminds parents to make sure teens are up to date on vaccines and to schedule a well visit before they leave to ensure kids are physically — and mentally — prepared.
In addition, open lines of communication about drugs, alcohol and sex. Keep an ongoing dialogue about the dangers, but also teach kids skills for self-control, emotional awareness and problem solving when faced with difficult situations.
“When parents can reassure themselves that they checked all the boxes before kids leave, it can make letting go easier,” she said.
Utilize on-campus services for a smoother transition
It’s reassuring when you know your child has on-campus support if a problem arises.
Start by identifying available academic resources on campus, especially for kids with underlying issues, such as learning disabilities or ADHD. Look into tutors, professor office hours, career resources and more, so kids know where to go if an issue pops up. It may be helpful to set up a meeting with the university to make sure accommodations are made for learning disabilities and ensure a seamless academic transition.
In addition, know what health services are available and where they’re located on campus. Also, don’t forget about mental health services. Many colleges have virtual support groups, as well as counselors and therapists, to provide services when additional struggles arise.
“Kids need to learn to be in charge of their own health care,” said Dr. Jedacek. “If possible, let your child see doctors alone a few times before they head off to college to give them the confidence to manage it on their own.”
Embrace your new role
Instead of looking at this change as a negative, approach it as an opportunity for growth in your parent-child relationship.
Your child will always need you, but how so will change. College is a time for teens to explore and become more independent of their parents. Your role as a parent will now transition from a caretaker to coach. Your child still needs your guidance, advice and to use you as a sounding board, but it’s important to let go and allow kids to make decisions for themselves.
Refocus your energy
Take this opportunity to get involved to fill your time, reclaim hobbies you once enjoyed and reconnect with your partner.
If you still have kids at home, use this time to focus on their activities and interests. If you don’t have kids at home, volunteer, try that painting or dance class you always wanted to, or try something new with your partner.
Schedule consistent communication
It’s OK to check in on your teen from time to time. Setting up a communication schedule is a good way to show support for your child, while also relieving your own stress and concerns. You can set up daily or weekly talks, or even schedule FaceTime or video chats.
In addition, it’s helpful to talk to your own friends in similar situations or connect with anther parent whose child is attending the same university. It’s always helpful to talk to people who understand what you’re going through.
“Every parent has some level of anxiety when their child goes off to college,” said Dr. Jedacek. “However, if it starts affecting their daily lives, they are constantly calling, having trouble focusing or crying all the time, these are signs it’s time to contact a professional for help.”