Tips for Adjusting to Your Young Adult Going off to College

Parents and kids going to college

“There are two things we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings” author unknown

You have spent the last 18 years or more actively supporting, nurturing, and loving your child, and now they are off to college. Your young adult is learning how to live on their own and manage their own life. This can be a really tough adjustment for most parents. Parents need to learn how to let go and allow their young adult to find their way, without their daily guidance and support. Parents are often unsure how to navigate this new phase in their life. This change can be dramatic and requires time to strike a new balance.  Questions parents often ask: Are they offering too much support and checking in too much? Is their young adult adjusting to college? Are they rescuing their child from uncomfortable settings? or Is the parent hovering over their young college student?  What is the right balance between loving support and needed independence?

The tips below offer some guidance for parents navigating this unknown territory as their child heads off to college. This article offers guidance for parents on how to still be supportive, but allowing your child to spread their wings.

Acknowledge that this is hard!: While it is exciting to see your child go off to school, as the whole family has worked so hard to make this happen, it is also a time or sadness and it can feel like a loss for parents. Allow yourself to grieve, the transition from a child in your home to now a young adult is not easy. It is OK to be excited and happy for this new stage in your child’s life, but also to cry and feel sadness. It is all part of a natural growth cycle and a normal change that your family is moving through from teen to young adult.

There are new boundaries and your relationship will change with your college student. You may have checked in often with your teen. Now that they are a young adult, you will check in less often and expect that they are managing their schedules on their own.  It may be difficult for you as a parent.  And you may feel that you are not supporting them. However, you are supporting them differently and allowing them their independence to find their way on their own. One of the toughest jobs as a parent is to allow our children to fail, make mistakes and then learn from those mistakes. Allowing them this freedom is one of the best gifts you can give your child.

Create new rituals:  If your child is close to you, you can plan to meet once a week or every two weeks, to take them out to lunch or go for a hike. If they are far from home, let them know that you would like to check in with them once a week.  Try to define together when it’s a good time for you to call them.  Allow them to be part of the planning process of when they would like to talk to you and see you.

Ensure they feel supported by letting them know you are there for them, but you are not going to smother them. Let your young adult know they can check in anytime. They may be feeling lost or lonely, find out and tell them about the mental health resources available at their school. Most schools offer six to 10 free mental health sessions as well as tutoring support for their students. Make them aware of these resources so they have someone to turn to if they are feeling overwhelmed.

Offer encouragement and listen more to your young adult. Your role has changed from directing and organizing their lives, to being a cheerleader and providing a shoulder to lean on, when needed. Actively listen when your child reaches out to you and refrain from lecturing or pointing out what they may have done wrong or could have done differently. Reflect back on what your adult child has shared and ask, did I understand that correctly is that what you said? Often times, they just want someone to listen to them and not to give advice. They are more likely to reach out if they don’t feel judged by you or the decisions they make.

Reinvent yourself and find out what makes you happy:  You are not just a parent, but a parent who also has interests and hobbies outside of your child. It may be a challenge to discover those things that interest you again.  Consider doing an activity that you enjoyed before you had children.  Explore the local groups or clubs in your areas.  Adults regularly get together for book clubs, cards, hiking, biking or gardening.  Start playing tennis again or riding your bike, and reach out to family and friends, and let them know you have more free time and would enjoy some company.

The transition from teen to young adult can be a challenging stage in your family’s life, but also an exciting one with opportunities for deeper connections with your child. Sometimes getting some additional support during this transition phase can help you get perspective and thrive during this chapter of your life. Please reach out and I am happy to discuss how we can work together to help you adjust successfully!

Monica Ramunda, MA, LPC RPT-S is a licensed counselor in both North Carolina and Colorado and the owner of Lighthouse Counseling Services and Rocky Mountain Counseling Services. She offers parenting support and family therapy as well as counseling for young adults. Please reach out for more information on her services.

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