6 Tips for Adjusting to Your Child Going to College

When I dropped off my eldest child at college, I thought my heart was going to break. However, just a few weeks after that sad weekend, I had adjusted to and accepted the fact that my daughter was no longer a permanent member of my household. Here are a few tips to help you adjust if you are sending your child off to college for the first time.

Reassure your child that he or she will be fine on their own at college. Though your child may act ready to leave and excited to start this new adventure, there is sure to be a little anxiety and apprehension. If you show your child that you are confident that he or she will succeed, it will help make them feel more confident also.

Don’t draw out the goodbyes. The most difficult part of beginning college is often the final goodbye before you leave once the dorm room has been set up and everything is unpacked. Make it as quick and painless as possible – like ripping off a bandage. There will be tears – yours and theirs – but that’s ok. Don’t be hard on yourself- or your child – for feeling so much emotion. Along the same lines, don’t be surprised if your student shows little emotion when you leave – that’s a very common reaction, too.

 Don’t hover. Don’t constantly call, text, email, Facebook chat, tweet, IM, or anything else. Let your child take the lead on contacting you. Sooner or later they all call home. By letting them call you when they need the comfort of your voice or a few extra dollars, you are allowing them to manage their feelings on their own, which is an important element in growing up. Inevitably calls from your college kids will come as they are walking to and from class – a time when they may feel somewhat isolated and lonely in the beginning.

Now the next step…adjusting to your home with one less person.
The most difficult thing is adjusting to them not living in your home. The empty bedroom, the chair where they usually sit at the dinner table, the reduced chaos – it’s quite startling how different things are when a family member is living away from home. There are a couple of things to do to make the transition a little easier for you:

Focus your attention on other children still living at home with you. Many parents find that senior year of high school becomes one long conversation with the graduating child, beginning with college applications and ending with school selection and prom dates. Now you can pay a little more attention to younger siblings, who were possibly rolling their eyes around the end of March when college acceptances (and rejections) started arriving. Soon enough younger children will be leaving too – enjoy them now!

Take the opportunity to do a deep cleaning of your college kid’s bedroom. If nothing else, it will make you realize how nice it is to have one room that is neat, clean and organized…at least for the time being. Be careful not to throw away mementos that could be important to your college student

If you have a little more free time, do some of the things you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t been able to. Perhaps you could find a little corner in your college kid’s room and make it your reading nook. Or maybe you now have time to do things with your other children that your college student didn’t enjoy – sporting events, theater, whatever they are interested in. Some of the things that you enjoyed may be behind you now, but new interests will fill the void if you are patient and open to new activities.

There is no way to know how long it will take for any one person to adjust successfully to a child leaving home for the first time, but by letting go, keeping busy and knowing that they will be back for Thanksgiving, you are doing yourself – and your college student – a big favor.

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47 Comments

  • Great tips, Sharon! When my eldest left for college I, too, was distraught. It gets a little easier with each kid, but it’s still a transition for everyone. I’ll share another tip that many of my friends have subscribed to: get a dog. You’ll still have someone to mother, and you won’t have to deal with typical teenage angst.

  • I see you’ve left out a VERY IMPORTANT STEP. Pouring yourself a huge rum & Diet Coke/wine slushie/gin & Tanqueray/jack & ginger/martini/adult beverage of your choice. Drink. Repeat.

  • Great tips and great article, Sharon. I know it’s a very hard time, especially for mothers. Your tips on making the adjustment are very important, and they definitely helped me!

  • I have four children. The first two went off to college and I was fine, missed them some, but my daughter went away in 9th grade for high school to a performing arts high school and I was a friggin wreck. For months I was very sad, even though we ended up closer than most mom and daughters who live with each other. We still talk three times a day (her choice not mine as you suggest)–very quick 30 seconds phone calls or sometimes 3 hour ones.. When my third son went to college, I had a hard time for a few days and then I was good. It’s amazing how with each one there is a different adjustment.

  • Great tips. My daughter will be a sophomore in college this year and it does take some serious adjustment to get used to it.

  • I have a while to go before I have to deal with this, but I’m not looking forward to the day my baby leaves me! Great tips to make it easier!

  • I am constantly trying to reinforce #3 to my parents for my brother, even after he’s done university. Haha, it’s tough being a parent, isn’t it?

  • Love theses tips. I just did the same thing with my daughter. I was a little sad for a moment then I realized that she is growing up and I have to let her fly. GREAT POST!

  • Chloe, it took me a year to figure out that I should start blogging. It was a tough year.

  • I can’t imagine what it will be like when my son goes off to college. Thanks for the tips. I’ll keep them all in mind.

  • Great post. With three daughters who went off to college one by one, I have a couple things to add. 1) Hard as it is on the parents, a college that is NOT within a day’s drive is best, I found. My oldest went to a school three hours away…and came home every weekend. She didn’t survive the four years. Our youngest two went seven hours away and had no choice but to tough out the really difficult transition and homesickness. They both graduated and are now in far more satisfactory careers than my oldest. 2) As the kids leave, create some NEW traditions and rituals to replace some of those that no longer feel good with a family member missing. Not just holidays (which, just wait, really SUCK at first when a kid gets married!) but the other little things you did/do as a family. It’s hard to face that empty chair day in and day out, or game nights when the goofiest is no longer playing along. Throw something new and different into the mix.
    One last thing: I find it interesting that you, Sharon, and Chloe both chose to blog as ways to get past the sadness of the nest emptying out. I chose to blog as a way to deal when learning I’d be a long-distance grandmother for God knows how long, because my daughter and SIL had the gall to make their life elsewhere. Blogging is magnificent for mending hearts and keeping one’s mind occupied.

  • Oh, gosh. Sorry for the novel above!

  • Great tips for sure! I wish I had this list 2 years ago when my first of four went off! This year I have 2 leaving and 2 starting high school at home. Utilizing the kids empty room has worked well for our family. We are sure to keep the rooms homey and we are not quite ready to ditch the bed and add a spa :0)…but using the space in our small home has been helpful for me. The transition was hard…her room was the empty space glaring at me! We decided to modify it a bit and use it as a spare school/home office area. A second desk, hung a bulletin board, etc. Nothing too invasive, just enough to remind me change is inevitable but slow :0).
    Love this blog, BTW! There is def a need for those approaching that empty nest time of life. Glad I found you all!

  • Thanks for the tips! I wish my mom had read some of these before sending me off to University all those years ago!

  • It was my last child that was the most difficult. And this was true all along the way because each time he hit a benchmark, I knew it was the last…first day of kindergarten, 1st grade, and then college. Good tips. I agree with the mixing of a cocktail..and would add that we should give ourselves a big ole, “well done” toast.

  • Hi – I’ve been blogging about kids going away – to university, to be lifties on top of mountains, to wander around foreign countries, to contemplate joining ashrams… but still appreciated the advice offered up here, especially the – don’t hover. Oh, may they forgive the hovering…

  • sandra

    Today is my first day not having my son here at home, he has started college at USF and ill be honest I don’t know how to deal with this sadness 🙁

    • Sharon Greenthal

      I’m so sorry to hear that – it’s a terribly sad thing at first, but it does get easier!

  • Sharon even though I’m three years away from this I found I got a lump in my throat thinking of a time when Tom won’t be in “his” chair at dinner every night. Thanks for your great tips, I will be sure to pass them on to some of my friends that are getting ready to do this with their own kids in a few weeks.

    • Sharon Greenthal

      Thanks Kathy. Whenever we have dinner together (a rare occasion) we always naturally sit in “our” chairs.

  • Janet Henderson

    A week and a half till I take my first to school. Just thinking about it and I cry. It helps to know that I am not the only one having trouble letting go. The thing is I am really thrilled for her to on her way and following her dreams. I want her to go. I am just so sad to think I will not be seeing her everyday. Deep breaths…lots of deep breaths…

    • Sharon Greenthal

      Yes, and watching her grow into adulthood will be so exciting, I promise!

    • Sara

      We took our oldest to college last week. I took to thinking about the deep breaths whenever there was anxiety, grouchiness and sadness as getting through contractions…. Like the final birthing phase:). It helped, and the feelings passed.

  • I’m at T minus 13 days and counting until my oldest leaves. I break into tears at the smallest thing and am afraid I’m going to ugly cry in front of all his new friends at drop off! These tips will definitely come in handy!

  • Great advice, Sharon! When our eldest left for college, the focus was completely on Mini-Me, which for her was a blessing and a curse. With estrogen out numbering the testosterone in the house, our evenings (when she wasn’t studying) became land of the chick flicks.

  • Alexa42

    For those of us with only one child about to leave the nest, unfortunately focusing on our other children is not an option…I don’t know if that makes it easier or tougher because the thought of feeling like this twice, three or even more times is pretty rough!

    I’ve been saving ideas on Pinterest for a year on my board called Empty Nest Prep – anything and everything from taking an improv class to learning meditation to volunteering to walk dogs. I’d love to just GET a dog but don’t think I can do that to our 9 year old Hurricane Katrina survivor cat, she’s already been through enough in her little catty life.

    30 days to blastoff….

  • Gina Shoniwa

    y daughter moved in with her sister yesterday and I have been crying off and on all day. She has been texting me all day telling me how sad she is and she wants to come home. I told her I am sad too, but we will get through this together. When the first three left home, it was a piece of cake, but this last one is killing me.

    I know she must fly, so I don’t want to tell her she can come back, but in my head I am thinking drive over there grab her stuff and get her home!

    When I pass by her room I cry, when I see her picture I cry, I am just so heartbroken, I talked to her earlier and managed to keep it together for her sake, but as soon as I hung up I was in tears.

    • Sharon Greenthal

      It’s so hard in the beginning, but as time goes on you’ll both adapt. You must stay strong for her sake. She needs to know you’re ok with her leaving.

      • Gina Shoniwa

        I think I can make it. I only cried once yesterday, unfortunately it was at Kroger, when I saw a pint of our favorite ice cream, lol.

        She came over yesterday and we had a long chat. Just seeing she was okay (although I am not sure how banged up she could be in two days) made me feel better, and I think it reassured her that I am here if and when she needs me.

        Reading some of the stories here really did help, so I thank you. I know I am not completely over her moving out, but coming here has made me focus more on the new relationship that I can have with her, as well as, spend more time focusing on me.

        And yesterday when she left I kissed her, said I love you, drive safe, and did not shed a tear, yeah I can do this.

  • OlySuperMom

    We are just 14 days away from delivering our oldest son to college. Today I helped him start packing & it really hit me….I was on the verge of a full blown anxiety attack! Luckily, we still have son #2 @ home for 3 more yrs. However, he didn’t seem so excited when I told him that I could now focus all my attention on him! (lol)

  • Lisa Neyman

    Great tips…and I would add that texting instead of calling helps alot in the beginning as I was prone to tearing up when I heard her voice. I took my eldest to school in Aug 2012 and my youngest in Aug 2013. With the first one I teared up on most of our college visits haha, I was better with the second because as hard as it is to believe at the time you do get used to it. It helps when they settle in quickly and make friends. Those teary panicky phone calls from them are the hardest…just stay calm, talk them in off the ledge and then do what I did..lay on the couch and cry (and pour a glass of wine). Watching my children turn into independent adults with all sorts of new interests and ideas is truly amazing!

  • Em jay

    I was so relieved to read this blog. I have been feeling distraught over the last few days. My son goes to university ( college) in 3 days. I thought I was being ridiculous getting so upset…I keep getting tearful but so far have managed to not let him see me upset. I was so thrilled when he gained top marks in exams allowing him to go to his first choice uni…and so proud. Knowing that it is what he really wants helps but now the sadness has taken me by surprise. I hope like others have said I get used to it and I think some of the suggestions like new routines and activities with younger siblings may help. We have tentatively set a date for his first weekend visit home when we’ve got a family gathering. I’ve said we’ll work towards that but if he has other activities at uni he doesn’t want to miss that’s absolutely fine.
    I’m lucky to have several friends all going through the same. One text me tonight asking how I was doing…her son has another month before he goes. We have agreed to meet next week and she promised to have the tissues ready!!

    • Sharon Greenthal

      Having friends going through the same thing is a huge, huge help! I’m glad my blog could help you through this transition.

  • Wow Sharon, I love your blog – I’ve had four leave my pretty darn nice nest. But when my eldest was ready to fly the coop at just 18, for art school a thousand miles away – I too was coming apart. I wrote a piece about it for CBC radio and they requested her funnier side of that story. That gig led to a book! Text Me, Love Mom – Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest. Reading these comments I want to hug the moms and tell them to find it on Amazon. Cause boy, do I get it – but Text Me, Love Mom will cheer them up!

  • I’m sending my oldest across 7 state lines for her final semester in a few days and my last is a senior in high school. I still tear up when she leaves! A few things that have helped: I send a grandparent on the trip. Not the first drop off, but after I have sent a grandparent. The bonding and storytelling is unforgettable. I can’t tell you how much both my kid and mom, dad or in law have enjoyed this and the funny stories and learning experiences that follow.
    We also thought about getting a pet, but didn’t want to be tied down to that once both kids were gone. So I’m now a foster cat mama for the local humane society. (They need dog fosters as well). This is our perfect solution because we can say no if we won’t be home, or if we go on vacation they have a kennel to stay at. Boarding them and vets bills are all covered. Sometimes I’ll get an adult cat for s few months or a litter of kittens for a few days. It also gets me in the habit of easy goodbyes once I love them and they leave!!!!!

    • Sharon Greenthal

      We love our dog so much, sometimes it’s kind of ridiculous. He’s definitely a substitute for a child around the house.

  • My son left for college 2 hours away 2 days ago. I know I will see him soon, but trying to figure out what to do with all my time is the hard part. When you are used to taking care of someone else for so long, and now they don’t need you the same way…its not easy. My eyes are the size of golf balls. I sure hope this gets easier soon. I have a dog, a husband, and friends and family…all of those wonderful things. I also have a grown son who lives close by, but it still isn’t easy seeing your baby leave the house. Please tell me this will get easier…

    • Sharon Greenthal

      I promise it gets easier! Near or far it’s a huge adjustment. Give yourself some time to get used to it. It’s ok to be sad. But it will definitely get easier.

  • susan

    My oldest son leaves today. I can not stop the tears. I am comforted to hear that it will get easier because right now, not feeling so great. 🙁
    We have a volatile relationship and don’t get along that well, (we are exactly alike). But damn, I sure will miss that dude. I had no idea how much until this week.
    Can’t stop the tears.

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