How to cope when your child leaves for college

It’s almost that time in August, when many young adults will start heading off to college for the first time.

While the experience is filled with excitement, Gila Lux, a licensed clinical therapist with Squirrel Hill Psychological Services (SHPS), says that often parents may have some mixed feelings about sending their young adults away to college–whether it’s across the country or right down the street. For many, it means facing the fact that their children have grown up much faster than they’d ever imagined.

“When a young adult goes off to college, it’s a transition for the entire family,” Gila says. “Just yesterday they were your babies, and now they’re taking their first steps toward their adult life. That is exciting but also difficult for a lot of parents.”

Gila suggests parents can work through their feelings by enlisting some of the following techniques.

  1. Recognize that mixed emotions are normal“This is an exciting time but also one that is tinged with sadness. You can’t expect yourself to feel only joy,” Gila says. “This is a great accomplishment for your child, but it is okay and normal to have mixed emotions.”
  2. Create a communication planBefore your child leaves for school, decide how you will communicate with each other. Establish clear expectations and guidelines for contact and communication that meet everyone’s comfort level.
  3.  Rediscover your interests“Use this newfound freedom to pursue interests that you may have put on hold or neglected while raising your teenager,” Gila says. “Fill the gaps in your schedule with activities to help ease any sadness or emptiness you may feel.”
  4. Contact SHPS for supportIf you’re having extreme or ongoing feelings of sadness or difficulty feeling motivated during this period of adjustment, SHPS can help. And additionally, make sure your child knows what professional counseling services are available to them if they find themselves struggling with sadness or difficultly working through this new transition.

“Above all, believe in your child’s resilience.” Gila says. “Know that you’ve done the hard work to get them to this point, and recognize that your child is now prepared to get through the changes and challenges to come. Enjoy what this journey means for both of you, and look forward to the next phase of your relationship with your child.”

The experienced therapists at SHPS can help with many issues and concerns that affect individual and family life. If you feel a need for counseling or advice, or for more information, call 412-521-3800 or visit www.squirrelhillpsych.org.

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