College Bound: Coping with Separation Anxiety

Preparing your child to go off to college involves extensive planning. If you’re like many parents, preparing for your child’s college days began years before college orientation. You saved (or planned to save), reviewed the credentials and programs of multiple schools, helped prepare them for the ACT and SATs, doled out the application fees, possibly helped them with the application itself, visited prospective schools with your child, and of course, shopped for all the “needed” school and living supplies.

There may be one thing that you didn’t plan for: separation anxiety.

Both parents and their college-age children are susceptible to separation anxiety. Everyone involved is transitioning to a new life stage. As parents, you are now adapting to being the parent of a young adult rather than an adolescent. Most students entering college are now moving to a young adult stage of life. These changes call for an adaptation of roles.

Here are some tips for navigating this transition a little bit more smoothly:

1. Discuss expectations.

As a family, discuss what you expect to occur after college begins. How often are family visits expected? How does your child feel about surprise visits? What are your expectations about incidental expenses? These are just a few items that should be included in your family discussion. Remember when having the discussion that it is okay for others to have a different opinion. It is also okay for you to act in your own best interest.

2. Communicate boundaries.

Boundaries are guidelines that you set for yourself. It is important to recognize that a boundary is not meant to control the actions of others. They are basically your definition of what is okay for you. If you are not up for a midnight phone conversation then you may establish a boundary that says you don’t take calls after 10 pm. One note on boundaries: a little flexibility is healthy. It is okay for you to leave yourself some wiggle room based on gut instinct, prior experience, etc. when it comes to deciding about whether or not to exercise flexibility with your boundaries.

3. Become your child’s ally.

You will always be your child’s parent. However as your child reaches young adulthood, it is beneficial for parents to act more as an ally rather than as a parent of a dependent child. Trusting your young adult child’s ability to resolve their own struggles builds confidence, strengthens their decision-making ability, and fosters independence.

4. Reconnect with your partner.

Believe it or not, becoming empty-nesters is often one of the most stressful times in a marriage. It becomes easy for partners to neglect each other while they focus on the children. Sometimes it may feel little uncomfortable when it is just you and your partner. If you find yourself relating to this, now is the time to take the steps to rebuild your relationship with your partner.

Jackie Dunagan, MAMFT