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How Parents Can Cope with Kids Leaving for College

Sending your child off to college is a milestone parents can look forward to and dread at the same time. Many parents of college-age children experience feelings of distress, loss, and extreme nostalgia when their kids leave home—all of which are common symptoms of empty nest syndrome. To cope with a child moving away to college, try these helpful empty nester tips!

Avoid Projecting Negative Emotions

Your child’s upcoming life transition may put your parenting skills to the test and bring up challenging emotions. This is completely normal! Still, it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with empty nest syndrome. Consider finding a parental support group with people in similar situations so you can process your feelings, gain useful advice from other parents, and make new friends after your child moves out. Knowing you’re not alone can better prepare you for change!

Help Prepare Your Child to Leave

Teens and young adults may experience separation anxiety before and after moving away, so it’s important to support them. Ease the transition by helping your college student prepare for the next step. Work with them to create a financial plan, compile all the medical information they’ll need, purchase items off their college dorm checklist, and find student storage units in case their living space is too small. This a great way to spend time with them leading up to the move and help them feel more confident in taking the next big step. The more confident they are, the more you’ll be able to let yourself relax knowing your parenting has readied them for the future.

Balance Your Child’s Time with Friends & Family

As you think about them leaving, you might want to schedule as much family time as possible before your child moves out. However, they have their own friends they’ll want to see, too, so try to strike a balance between spending quality time with your child and allowing them time with their friends. As a compromise, plan an early summer family outing or take a trip to top family vacation spots before your teen leaves for college. Just be mindful not to fall prey to what education specialist Marjorie Savage calls “last time syndrome“—the negative fixation on the last times you and your teen will do certain activities together. Instead, concentrate on having fun, living in the moment, and creating memories to make it a positive experience for all!

Give Them Something Special

Now that your child is entering adulthood, a gift can be a great way to show your support for them. Practical gifts for college students like cookware, mobile phone chargers, new laptops, and other campus essentials are fantastic ideas. A more sentimental gift is also an excellent move. Consider gifting them a framed photo of the family to remind them of home, a quilt made from their old shirts or baby clothes, or even a heartfelt letter that tells them how much they mean to you and how excited you are for their new chapter.

Make Plans to Stay In Touch

There are a number of simple ways to stay in touch with your college kid, such as FaceTime, Zoom, Google Chat, and other apps. Come up with a plan together on when and how often you’ll call each other. Though you might have the urge to call them every day, it’s best to give them space to figure themselves out. Remember that colleges often have family events and opportunities for you to come visit on campus. And your child will have plenty of chances over holidays and breaks to come home and tell you all about their experiences!

Start a New Hobby

Your child going off to college is a great time for you to focus on yourself. Parents often put their own interests on the back-burner when raising a family. Fortunately, there are plenty of hobbies for empty nesters to engage in when their schedules are a bit freer. If you enjoy spending time outside, take up outdoor activities like gardening or hiking. If you have an artistic flair, start a blog or journal to get your creative juices flowing. Other hobbies you could try include learning an instrument, reading, sewing, cooking, traveling, and exercising.

Prioritize Your Social Life

Studies show that marital satisfaction often increases after children move out, so it might be a great opportunity to rekindle the flame with your partner and enjoy childfree nights you didn’t have time for before. If you’re single, put yourself back out there and start going on dates. You can also schedule regular coffee or brunch outings with friends or invite them to casual get-togethers. Reconnecting with your partner, family, and friends after your child leaves can improve your mental health and strengthen your emotional support system to help you through the hard times.

Head Back to School

When your child leaves for college, it may also be a good time for you to consider going back to school. Many colleges offer weekly and online courses for adults, so you don’t necessarily have to commute to campus for in-person classes. Whether you want to challenge yourself, improve your career skills, or you’re simply trying to achieve a lifelong goal, making a plan to continue your own education can be a powerful way to focus on yourself and combat empty nest depression.

Frequently Asked Questions About Empty Nest Syndrome

Is empty nest syndrome real?

Yes, empty nest syndrome is a real phenomenon that’s common among parents with college-aged children, but it isn’t actually a medical diagnosis. The term was coined by writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher in Mothers and Children (1914), which explored meeting the demands of motherhood while maintaining an identity as an individual.

What are common signs of empty nest syndrome?

Feelings of grief, worry, emptiness, restlessness, and irritability are common symptoms of empty nest syndrome. While it isn’t a clinical condition itself, empty nest syndrome can lead to diagnosable conditions like anxiety and depression. Parents who are having a particularly hard time coping with their child moving away to college may benefit from individual, couples, or family counseling. Not all symptoms of empty nest syndrome are negative, though. Many parents also feel relief and excitement about the future when their kids move out.

How long does empty nest syndrome last?

According to Pima College psychology professor Carin Rubenstein, the grief felt after dropping off your teen at college tends to fade after a month or two. However, all parents are different, so for some, the empty nest stage can last for shorter or longer periods. Practicing self-care and using the tips mentioned in our guide above can help you cope with missing your college child!


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