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Preparing Yourself & Your Child for the Transition to College

The start of college is a huge life transition. It’s normal for both the parents and the child to be feeling:

  • stress, anxiety (including financial worry)
  • nervousness, overwhelm
  • separation anxiety, loss, concerns about homesickness
  • concerns about roommates and establishing social support

All of the above can exacerbate relational conflict during this time.  Perhaps this is nature’s way of facilitating separation and individuation!  Life transitions are almost always stressful.

Tips for parents: 

  • Gather information, resources and establish a plan for everything from the move to how you will manage finances. Encourage your child to participate in the programs offered through the school, such as orientations and socials. The less uncertainty and the more you and your child can visualize how things will be, the more prepared and confident you will both feel.
  • Honor your own feelings of loss and worry and express those to your own support system (your partner, your best friend, your therapist) and not your kid. Your kid does not need the added stress of taking care of you at this time.
  • Provide empathy and emotional support to your teen by normalizing whatever feelings they are expressing. Avoid dismissing their feelings by saying invalidating and minimizing things like, “Don’t be nervous” or “It’ll be fine.” If they are not expressing feelings, you can say what they aren’t saying, for example, “You know, it is really normal to feel ambivalent or scared about this big change in your life.”  They might deny that that is how they are feeling, but at least you have addressed the elephant in the room.
  • Discuss the importance of social support. Encourage your teen to connect with their future roommate over social media, if possible.  Talk with them about being open-minded and the essential life skill of learning to live with others.  Emphasize the importance of social support and explore ways of meeting friends through social groups, sports, cultural groups, etc.  Set them up with the student counseling center if you think that would be a good support.
  • Discuss safety issues like drugs, alcohol and sex.  Be upfront and honest about the normal issues kids will face at school.  Provide them with information and resources.  Convey trust in them that they will make good choices and become their own good parent.
  • Let go and trust. As parents, we must give our children roots and wings.  Like the first day you brought them to kindergarten, this is a time for them to gain independence and you to trust that they are capable.  Resist the urge to be a “helicopter parent” and convey that you know your child is perfectly capable of great success at college. Resist the urge to swoop in an bring them home if they are experiencing some homesickness or buyers remorse.  Stay the course and encourage them to stick with it with the support of a therapist or counselor.
  • Practice mindfulness. The best way to reduce stress and anxiety is to bring your attention to the present moment (instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future and all of the “what ifs”.)  Practice deep breathing, meditation, yoga or anything that brings your attention to the here-and now (for some, this is exercise, like running.)  Model for your kid the importance of having a daily mindfulness practice. Practice healthy detachment with love.
  • Consider counseling.  Don’t wait until there is a problem.  Be proactive and set your kid up for a few sessions before going off to school. Connect them with the student counseling center.  Consider having a few sessions for yourself to discuss any feelings of loss or anxiety or issues around dealing with an empty nest.

Tips for kids going off to college:

  • Cut yourself some slack.  This is a stressful time and it is okay to be nervous.  You might feel out of whack and that’s okay.  This too, shall pass.
  • Be a duck and let things roll off your back.  Parents driving you nuts?  Conserve your energy and pick your battles.
  • Access support.  Talk with friends, family or a counselor about your feelings.  Make sure you have social support by getting connected at school. Resist the urge to isolate and understand everyone is nervous.
  • Keep your thinking positive.  Appreciate the power of self-fulfilling prophecy and visualize things going well and that you already love it at school.

Click here to watch a video segment where Sylvia Perez and I discussed this issue on Fox 32 Chicago!

What other suggestions do your have regarding the transition to college?  I would love to hear them in the comments section!

Preparing Yourself & Your Child for the Transition to College

Joyce Marter, LCPC

Joyce Marter, LCPC is the Founder of Urban Balance and public speaker. You may find her at her personal website here, or you may follow her on Twitter.

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APA Reference
Marter, J. (2017). Preparing Yourself & Your Child for the Transition to College. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Aug 2017
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