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Going Away to College: How to Cope

July 8, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

Going Away to College: How to Cope | A freshman unpacks the car at the dorm as his dad looks on.

From the first moment I let go of my oldest child, as he took his first step, I realized that his journey away from me had begun. Before I knew it, I was traveling with him to college, helping ready his dorm room and saying “goodbye,” once again letting go.

As parents, the emotions that we feel at each of these moments are not that different—both can be filled with excitement, worry, and hope. We are excited for all the new things our children are about to experience. We worry that they will face difficulties and challenges. We’re hopeful that they will make good decisions as they experience all these new things.

Heading off to college is an exciting time for our children. Parents are involved as their children apply to college; we celebrate their acceptance into a university and help them move in on campus. But for many parents, the first time a child goes off to college can be challenging. As exciting as this is, we have a lot of questions.

How do we prepare ourselves before our child leaves?
Making a plan for the initial goodbye can be comforting and helps to ready everyone involved. When will you be dropping your child off? Who will be going? How will you travel? Once you are there, how long are you going to stay? Figuring these things out ahead of time means things may be less difficult on the day itself, leaving only the emotional aspect to cope with.

What do we do when they are away?
In actuality, the day you say goodbye may not be the hardest part. Instead, the daily reality of living with your child no longer at home may prove to be the difficult part. You will know less about your child’s life, where he is and what he is doing at any given moment of the day. And worrying about your child’s welfare can increase the feelings of loneliness and loss.

To help prepare and prevent these feelings, discuss expectations on communicating with your child before he leaves. Set up weekly call times. Plan to visit and participate in on-campus parent activities or sports events. These are all opportunities to participate in your child’s college experience without threatening his independence.

How can we best get through the process?
Communication is key; we parents need to give our children space to become independent and enjoy their new lives, but staying in touch and finding out how they are is healthy. Before you know it, your child will return home on scheduled breaks to reconnect with you and share his experiences thus far.

If your child going to school has a younger sibling, read my tips for helping transition the sibling when the older child leaves for school.

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