Advice for Parents About Transitioning Your Child To University or College

  1. Recognize that this is a big transition, and it is normal to have mixed feelings about the upcoming changes, such as joy and sadness.

Part of the developmental task of early adulthood is to establish autonomy, to establish oneself as an independent person, and to fine tune a sense of identity. It is common and healthy for young adults to leave home for school, work or travelling. Although a natural part of the process of becoming independent, the change of leaving home can bring many mixed feelings for parents and their children. It is normal to feel a mixture of joy and loss, excitement and anxiety as your child prepares to leave. Embrace the journey and allow yourself to experience your feelings, while ensuring that your child is the focus of the transition.

  1. Maintain open communication and dialogue. Set up a schedule for staying in touch.

Having open conversations about the upcoming challenges, opportunities, and tasks ahead will allow space for you and your child to explore the things that they are excited about, may need help with, or cause anxiety. Rather than lecturing, be supportive, positive, and encouraging. Allow your child to lead the conversations and keep their thoughts and feelings in the centre. Talk about a way to stay connected, (i.e., calls, text, Facetime) and what frequency feels comfortable for both of you. Every child is different, so keep in mind that every child’s journey is unique, as is yours.

  1. Promote skills of independence and problem solving. Remember the goal is autonomy, and it is a journey, not an event.

Your parenting over the years has promoted your child’s development in many different skill areas. Leaving home and moving towards independence requires new skills but also builds on skills you have taught them, and they have learned. As you prepare for the transition, engage in conversations that focus on building skills of problem solving and independence. For example, talk about what to expect once they move, and what things they will be responsible for, including financial realities, and day to day tasks such as preparing food and doing laundry. Ask your child if there are things or tasks that they want to learn that you can help with. Talk about how to solve problems and the resources available where they will be living to help in different situations, especially if they are living far away from you.

  1. Take steps to reduce stress because change causes stress for individuals and families.

It is common for people to experience increased stress during times of great change, even when the changes are positive. Provide support and reassurance to your child, and to other family members who may be struggling. Take time to look after yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Take time to reflect on the joys of your relationship with your child, what you are grateful for, what you look forward to, and what you feel sad about as your child leaves home for the first time. Share your feelings with trusted and supportive friends. Recognize this big developmental step as a new beginning, more than an ending, and trust the process.

  1. Promote positive mental health and know when to seek help.

The foundations of positive mental health are intricately tied to our physical health. Talk with your child about continuing patterns that have supported them to be healthy while living with you, such as good sleep habits, nutrition and keeping a schedule. Skills of self regulation are also critical to mental health, including being able to cope with disappointments, and to be able to flexibly adapt to situations. Have conversations about mental health, coping, and seeking help, and identify resources for support at the school and in the community.

Having a child leave home to go to school is a major life event. If you are struggling with the transition and are concerned about your own mental health, consider speaking with a mental health professional. Big life changes can be hard, and having a professional to help guide your process can provide much needed reassurance and guidance at a critical time.