Part 1 of 2 part series

By: Sarah Zucker, PsyD

Anxiety and Adjustment to CollegeIt’s that time of year. You can’t escape the back-to-school advertisements and sales no matter how hard you try. Normally, this time merely signified the start of yet another school year for your child and you having to procure the supplies and wardrobe additions that come with it. And after almost 12 years of doing this routine, you think you’ve finally got it down and are used to it.

And just like that, everything changes. The college acceptance letters start rolling in. Your child is ecstatic (or devastated), and you feel overwhelmingly conflicted. On the one hand, you couldn’t be more proud of your child. On the other hand, you’re crestfallen that they’re leaving and you’re worried about them going into the world alone. Are they ready? Heck, are YOU ready?

Having a child go away to college is an emotional time for all involved. I remember when my parents dropped me off at my dorm. I tried to play it cool, but I was so homesick for those first few weeks. My parents tried not to worry me, but I later learned that their six hour drive home was one of the hardest times in their entire lives. They prepared as best they could for the event, but how can you really ready yourself for such an earth-shattering change? My sweet parents even attended some seminars about how to be OK with your child leaving for college. But nothing could have fully prepped either of us for the journey ahead.

When a child leaves for college, or even just moves out for the first time, it is a big adjustment for the entire family. Mothers, who were typically the ones staying home with the children in the past, were thought to experience “Empty Nest Syndrome” more intensely than their partners. Now we know that although women still report experiencing the loss more than their spouses, both parents experience the loss in their own ways and must adapt accordingly. Here are some things to help you through the transition.

1. Remember that ultimately, this is a happy, positive event. Yes, it’s hard, and it’s normal to feel sadness, loss, worry, and helplessness. Your little baby is leaving. Having these feelings only means you had a good relationship and you basically got this whole parenting thing right. Sending them off to college or into the world means you did your job as a parent. The ultimate task of parents, as harsh as it sounds, is to have their children not need them anymore, and sending them to college means you’re well on your way towards that goal. When you feel down, remember it’s natural. It’s OK to talk to your child about how you’re feeling, but don’t burden or overwhelm them. This is a big change for them as well, and it’s much harder if you don’t reassure them that although you’ll miss them, you will be OK and that you want them to succeed and grow. Remember, your child should not feel responsible for your emotional state.

Accept your feelings as they are and work from that starting point. Take a moment to feel however you’re feeling, but make a choice to wrap up your worries with a positive thought such as, “This is a good thing, and it’s OK to take time to adjust.” A psychologist can help you cope if you are experiencing prolonged feelings of sadness, wanting to isolate more than usual, or not getting pleasure out of activities you usually enjoy. Also, although there is no set amount of time that you should or should not be feeling these feelings, if your depressed mood persists, it’s time to seek professional help.


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Read Part 2 in this series Anxiety and Adjustment to College.