Back to school can be a stressful time for anyone, but when you’re sending your child off to college — especially if this is your first time — you are likely feeling many mixed emotions, from fear to sadness to amazement. After all, this is your baby, and you are sending them off into the world without you. It may feel like there is so much at stake, and even though you have been preparing for this moment since your child was born, it can feel like a gut-punch when it actually happens.
The days and weeks leading up to college drop off are naturally stressful. There’s the never-ending check-list of items to purchase and pack. You want to make sure your child is properly registered for classes, that their food plan is set, and that they will know where to go if they become ill or need guidance. You’ll worry about their tender hearts, and whether they will be able to handle the adversity they’re about to experience.
In many ways, you’ve prepared for this transition for the past 18 or so years, and there isn’t too much more to prepare besides believing in your child’s innate resilience — and keeping the faith.
Still, there are a few key things you can do to ace back to school season with your college kid.
1. Practice “Life Skills”
In the months and weeks leading up to drop off, make sure your child feels comfortable with things like doing laundry, preparing simple meals for themselves, and managing their money. It’s obviously best if this isn’t the first time they are learning these things, and you don’t want to make it too high pressure, but you want to make sure they feel comfortable with the kinds of things they will need to start taking care of on their own.
2. Visit Campus
If you haven’t already, schedule a visit to campus. It’s a lot easier to learn your way around when you aren’t in a crowd of other confused first-year students. Enjoying a leisurely weekend on campus as a family — maybe taking in some local attractions and some delicious bites — will help your child warm up to the location and begin to feel at home.
3. Learn About Campus Resources
Before you arrive, make sure you have a list of important resources, like the local pharmacy, school nurse and doctor, college counselors and psychologists. Since transitioning to college will likely represent one of the biggest upheavals of your child’s life, it’s important that they have support, not only for their physical health, but also for their mental well-being. Some colleges offer more of these resources than others, but online therapy from a trusted provider — a licensed therapist your child can reach out to 24/7 — can be a great support regardless of the university’s offerings. Some parents will also find their own local physician for their child, or might join a local bank so that their child has in-person help for banking needs. Whatever you do, it’s good to know the lay of the land, and have a resource list available for your child in advance of when any issues arise.
4. Model and Practice Self-Care
It isn’t just “life skills” that your child will need to master when they get to college. Learning to deal with all the complex new emotions they feel as they enter this unfamiliar terrain is vital. You can discuss your own transition to college or to other new situations. You can emphasize that it will be normal to feel lonely, out of place, and anxious. You can talk about what coping mechanisms your child has already developed, and other situations where they have thrived despite challenges.
5. Help Your Child Stay Organized
Just like the transition from elementary school to middle school, or middle school to high school, your child is going to have a whole new set of responsibilities. In college, it’s easy to become lax because there is no one making sure you wake up on time and get to school. There is no one to ask if your homework has been done, or to go out to the drug store at 10pm to get you extra poster board. Discuss ways that your child will be able to do some of these things by themselves. From online calendars to electronic reminders, your child can experiment with what works best for them.
6. Stay Emotionally Available
You don’t want to be overbearing, but you also can’t expect your child to do this all on their own. Make sure they know that you are there for them. They can text or call you anytime, even late at night if they are feeling unsure or lonely. Tell them all the minute details of their days are interesting to you, whether they think you’ll care or not. And make sure they know that you will not judge their feelings, or even their poor decisions. You will listen and support them no matter what.
7. Amass Your Own Support Network
Most colleges have online support groups for parents of students. Join one so that you can stay “in the know” about what’s happening on-campus, and to exchange information about how to prepare for the upcoming year. Stay connected with any other friends sending their kids off to college — it’s a unique experience and one worth sharing. Remember, too, that you need your own self-care during this process. It’s extremely emotional to drop your kid off at college! So have a self-care plan in place for yourself. And remember to bring extra tissues to drop off: you’ll need them.
Sending your child off to college includes a fair amount of emotional and physical upheaval, but before you know it, your kid will be settled in — and you’ll be able to breathe again, too. Remember that millions of families have been through this before, and managed to come out the other side intact, and thriving. So hang in there — you’ve got this.
Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.
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