mom on zoom call with penn state frames behind her

So, your son or daughter is finally heading off to college to earn a degree. Even though you’ve always known this day would come, most parents aren’t sure how to cope with their kids going to college even though it’s an exciting achievement. For 18 long, chaotic but happy years, you’ve had your child to look after, and now they’re leaving home and starting the next chapter on their own. Although you’re proud and excited for your child and the adventures they’re about to embark upon, it’s totally normal for you to feel a deep sadness and even grieve their absence in your life.

Being a parent is a full-time job that lasts your entire life. Just because your children are older and are becoming adults doesn’t mean that you don’t care or worry about them just as much as you did when they were newborns. They have so many important life lessons ahead.

However, this isn’t just a big transition for your child, it’s also the start of a new chapter in your life. Not having your children living with you gives you a new sense of freedom and the chance to explore interests and hobbies that you didn’t have time for in years past. There’s no denying that your child’s departure for college is a time of change and disruption for many parents.

To give you some support, we’ve put together this survival guide to help when your child goes to college. With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to celebrate your daughter or son leaving for college rather than focusing on any feelings of loss.

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1.) Plan Ahead for Your Freshman’s Departure

If you’re worried about how you’re going to cope with your kids going away to college, then it’s important that you’re prepared and have planned ahead for the upcoming change. Just as your child will grow emotionally and gain so much from the college experience, so will you as a parent. You and your spouse can find ways to break outside your comfort zones, try something new every single day.

In the time leading up to your freshman’s departure, you may decide to take up some new hobbies or healthy practices. Get into good behaviors for your mind and body like meditation, yoga, tai chi, and focusing on deep breaths. Make more time for your social life, church events, and community volunteer efforts. This is a great way to get into the habit of focusing your time on your own interests and needs before your child leaves for college. It will also make the change feel less drastic when your kid goes to college.

It’s important that you prepare yourself mentally for your son or daughter leaving for college and don’t avoid thinking about it. You may decide that you want to increase your hours at work so you don’t feel the loss as much when your child goes to college, as you’ll be busy with your own schedule and commitments. Kids are often our focus and provide a lot of energy in our lives, so it’s important to find new ways to stay calm and also keep busy. Dance to your favorite Fleetwood Mac songs while organizing your closet, attic, or kitchen cabinets. Join a pickle ball team, start a book club, run your first race, take a pottery class—live your life exploring new opportunities.

2.) Show Your Support and School Spirit

With your kids going to college, you shouldn’t feel that your child moving away to college means that they’re about to embark on a new chapter that doesn’t involve you at all. Just because you won’t be living with them full-time doesn’t mean that you won’t be an essential part of their life. You may even find that they now need you more than ever.

Sit your child down before the big move and discuss how you feel about them heading off to college. It may come out as a bittersweet bouquet of clumsy words, a simple melody with a few tears, but it’s all from the heart. It’s important to tell your kids that you’re proud of them and the hard work it took to get them to this point, but that you’ll miss them and want to be as helpful and involved in their time at college as possible.

A great way for parents to get involved in their child’s college experience is by getting into the school spirit. For example, if you want to get your child a going-away gift, consider giving them some officially licensed merchandise such as team mugs, sweatshirts, or college photo frames (often with free shipping) for their dorm room. This is a great way to give your child your blessing while also showing your interest in their new life. Sports is a huge part of the college experience, so why not celebrate team spirit by attending games as a family? It’s a great way to share in the college experience while making memories that will last a lifetime. Your child going to college is a grand accomplishment, and giving them merchandise is a healthy way to show your support and give them something that will always remind them of you.

When your child goes to college, you might also want to help ease their transition into dorm life and bring a piece of “home” with them, so consider buying them a custom “Class of” photo frame and place favorite photos from home inside. And, of course, officially licensed college diploma frames make for the perfect graduation present once their college experience comes to an end and shows them how proud you are of them.

These are just some of the examples of how you can be heavily and healthily involved in your child’s college life and show them that you want to be a part of their university experience. These small gifts are great for how to deal with a child going to college as well, because it gives you something to look forward – especially if your love language is gift-giving!

3.) Be Kind to Yourself

You shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if you’re struggling to cope with your child heading off to college and leaving your family home. Many parents struggle with empty nester syndrome, as it’s commonly referred to now. Don’t feel silly or guilty for feeling down or missing your child. Although you’re happy for them, it’s normal for you to miss them and wish they were still at home with you.

Even when we know they’re safe and are making the right choices, parents can’t help but worry about their children. However, it’s important to remember that you’ve brought them up well and have given them the life lessons they need to navigate hard choices and potential bad behavior at school. In time, you may even embrace your empty nest status and dive into home projects you’ve always wanted to try. Just remember how much fun and the growth you were experiencing at his age! It’s great for your child to experience the same or better during their own time at college.

girl in dorm on zoom call waving

4.) Embrace Technology

It doesn’t matter how far away your child is, you can still communicate as if they were in the next room. Due to the technological developments in recent years, you don’t have to worry about going weeks or even months without seeing your child once they move to college. Your child will always be at the other end of your cell phone, so be prepared for morning phone calls asking how to make eggs or late-night texts about how to work the washing machine and dryer no matter if your child is going to college in-state or across the country (or even studying abroad!). Technology is a powerful tool for connection.

Similarly, you can use video chat features such as FaceTime or Zoom meetings so that you can always check in with your child while they are away. By doing a video chat, you will feel like you have seen them. Years ago, sending your child off to college meant not seeing them very often. If you’re struggling with their absence, then you should embrace everything that technology has to offer. You may even find that you end up speaking to and seeing your child more while they’re at college than you did when you were both living under the same roof. Plus, you’ll both have plenty to talk about since you’re both having different experiences rather than experiencing every day together.

5.) Focus on the Positives

Even though initially you may feel negative, worried, and anxious about your kids going away to college, in time you’ll start to acknowledge the many positives that come with the big change. You should remind yourself how well your child has done to gain a place at college and be proud of them for how hard they’ve worked to obtain it. Your child going to college will put them in good stead for their future and will increase the opportunities that will come their way. By going to college, your child is getting the skills and qualifications they need to be successful in the future, and you should be proud of them for that.

When your child goes to college, it isn’t just the start of something new and exciting for them, but also for you. You may find that this is the perfect opportunity for them to understand and appreciate everything you have always done for them. It may help to strengthen your relationship and bond more with them now that you’re no longer under each other’s feet. Space and growth may be exactly what you both need to move from a child relationship to an adult relationship.

family tailgating at college game

6.) Schedule Plans for Family Visits

A great way to cope with your child going to college is to make plans with them in advance. They may not live at home with you anymore, but that doesn’t mean that you have to stop spending time together. While this may not be as achievable if they’re moving to a college that’s a significant distance away, you may be surprised at the different opportunities there are for visits.

While it’s important that you don’t just show up on campus during the school year without letting your child know, you can make plans to go visit them when their college is hosting their “family weekend” visits. This is a great opportunity for you to head over to your child’s college to spend some time with them while also getting a look at their new home. Seeing that they are happy and safe in the college environment can really put your mind at ease and make you feel better about the situation.

You’ll also be glad to know that the academic year is divided by different holiday seasons so it’s only a matter of weeks until your child is heading home to enjoy Thanksgiving, winter vacation, and spring break with you and the rest of the family.

Now that your child has moved away to college, you can find new ways to spend time together. For example, find a restaurant close to your child’s college campus that you both like and that could be your favorite spot to catch up on what you have both been doing. Try not to see your child going to college as the end of a shared experience, and instead look at it as a chance to start new traditions and enjoy new experiences together.

7.) Give Them Space

While you may be anxious to start planning visits as soon as your child leaves for college, it’s important that you appreciate their need to carve out their own space and get used to their new surroundings. Similarly, you need to get used to life without them being around every day, and you won’t be able to do that while you are planning trips down to your child’s college campus every weekend.

It’s important that you don’t suffocate your child when they move away to college, as not only do they need to learn how to cope on their own, but you may find that this has a counterproductive effect on your relationship. Allow your child the space and time they need when they first head off to college and let them come to you when they need you. This will benefit your relationship in the long run.

mom pushing shopping cart down cereal aisle

8.) Be Patient

It may take a while for you to adjust to your child being away at college and this is normal. Be patient with yourself and don’t expect to adapt right away. You may find yourself a bit teary in the grocery aisle when you no longer need to buy your child’s favorite snacks, but this will pass in time and you will get used to the situation (and may even begin to enjoy it, since now there’s a reason to celebrate with special foods and snacks when they do come home). Plus, you can always stock up on their favorites and send them in a college care package.

ladies holding sparklers at outdoor dinner party

9.) Focus on Your Other Relationships

When you’re a parent, your attention is often divided in many different directions at once, which can cause strain on other relationships such as your marriage or friendships. With your kids going to college, you now have the time to focus on these other relationships. For example, now that you don’t have to feed the kids every evening, consider scheduling a regular date night with your partner and reclaim that time for yourself. You could also schedule a monthly dinner with friends that you haven’t seen for awhile.

It’s natural to feel distraught and a bit lost when your child leaves for college. With so many changes, it’s completely understandable. But by following this parent’s survival guide, you will soon feel settled and get used to your new family dynamic. Your kids going to college is something that’s no doubt bittersweet, but this list can help you focus on the good things that will come out of this change!

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