There are hundreds of resources out there to help prepare high school graduates for the stressors of college life. However, many leave out the transition that happens at home with parents, once kids have left for school. Adjusting to a new household dynamic without your child can be difficult for parents who haven’t prepared for it. Here are some tips to make the college transition easier for yourself and your household.

  • Direct your child to on-campus support. As a parent, you know your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Whether they need an extra push in the classroom to complete assignments, or have workaholic tendencies, encourage them to contact support services like advisors, professors, older students and other trusted adults when they feel overwhelmed or unmotivated. This reduces their tendency to turn to you for support, and teaches them to rely on resources available on campus.
  • Suggest a light course load. It’s wise for freshmen students to have a course load that they are genuinely interested in, rather than one that is extremely challenging. Help them craft a first semester course load that meets their interests, and let them know that it’s okay to ask for an extension and talk to their professors if they feel stuck in class. First semester grades are often lower because college students are learning how to master studying. Reduce the stress that a heavy course load may cause by suggesting classes you think your child would enjoy.
  • Acknowledge how you feel about the transition. It’s perfectly okay to acknowledge the range of emotions you’ll feel once your child departs. It’s normal to feel relieved, sad, anxious, scared, bored or restless. Let the rest of your household process the departure in their own ways and talk about it freely to help process the experience.
  • Maintain your normal routine. Just because your child no longer lives at home doesn’t mean you need to abandon or drastically alter your daily routine. Continue to follow your regular schedule to maintain a sense of normalcy for yourself and your family.
  • Talk to their siblings. Maintain an open method of communication between yourself and your other kids. They are often processing the same feelings as you, and it may be helpful for everyone to talk about them together. It’s perfectly alright to tell them you miss your child, to be visibly sad or think about them. Take into consideration that siblings might feel some relief at their sibling’s absence, and try not to force or guilt them into feeling the same way you do.
  • Touch base once a week. Pick a day to call your child and stick with it. Many college students appreciate and look forward to hearing from their parents on a specific day and time. The phone or video call can be very brief, but it’s important to let them know that you’re always there to talk.
  • Leave other communication up to your child. Your child is best at determining how often and how much support they need from you. Some kids need very little support upon arrival at college, but others may need lots of reassurance. Leave that decision and line of communication up to your child to empower them to maintain open communication.


Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two girls.

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