Tips and Resources for Parents and Caregivers of Students

Sending your student off to college is an exciting time.  Many parents feel it is the culmination of years spent raising, educating and caring for their children.  However, it can also be a time of sadness and grief for parents.  You may be familiar with the popular term, ‘Empty Nest Syndrome’, which is not actually a clinical syndrome, but rather a common reaction to children transitioning out of the family home; it is characterized by feelings of depression, grief and sadness. 


If you are experiencing any of these symptoms both before and during your student’s transition to college, there are some things you can bear in mind:

  • This can be a natural time of ambivalence for both caregivers and students.  Talking with other parents who are going through similar experiences can be helpful.
  • Technology is your friend.  Nowadays when a student leaves for college there are a multitude of ways in which you can keep in contact with your student, including texting, email, FaceTime, Skype, and social media.  Regular contact is a good way of feeling connected to your student.
  • Before your student leaves for college, an open conversation in which you encourage the student to establish ‘check in’ days and times ahead of their departure, can help to alleviate anxiety for both student and caregiver.  Let the student decide the timing of these check ins as a way of helping them to foster their sense of independence and newfound freedom.  Setting up times to check in once a week, or every few days can help caregivers to feel connected without interfering with the students’ need for space and independence.
  • Recognize that this is a normal stage of development and that your student may need some time to adjust to a more independent lifestyle.  Developing an adult relationship with your student is an important goal, as this a natural time of change between caregiver and student.
  • Remember that this is an opportunity to explore new hobbies and interests and to deepen your connection to your partner and other children.  If this is your last child, or only child to leave home, recognize that this can be a wonderful time to spend enriching and enjoying this new phase of your life.  This is a normal life stage, so do not feel guilty if you carve out time for yourself and enjoy the freedom that comes from an empty nest.
  • Keeping your student updated with news from home can be helpful in fostering a sense of connection to home and family.  Try not to spend this time discussing problems, or uncertainties you are having during this transition, as your student is also facing new emotional challenges and it may not be helpful for them to worry about you, as well.  However, keeping them updated to changes at home can help to foster trust and a sense of connection to home as they are navigating their own changes in college.
  • Transition from problem-solver to coach.  It is not unusual for college students to call home when things are not going well, reminding them of the many resources on campus, such as the Counseling Center, Campus Ministry, the Center for Gender Equity, academic advisors, R.A.’s and R.D.’s, as well as other support groups and clubs on campus that can help students to learn valuable problem solving skills, is a healthy way of supporting your student without managing their challenges for them.  Students are often more capable of doing this than caregivers first realize.  There will be great pleasure and peace of mind in watching your student grow into their own problem solver.
  • Finally, for symptoms of depression, sadness and grief, seeking counseling from a mental health professional is an important option, as you transition into a ‘new normal’.

Resources

  • The Empty Nest: 31 Parents Tell the Truth About Relationships, Love and Freedom After the Kids Fly the Coop.   Author, Karen Stabiner
  • Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years (5th Edition).  Authors, Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger.
  • UniversityParent Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year: Packed with Practical Advice and Insightful Reflections for College Parents.  Authors, Diane Schwemm and Sarah Schupp.