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How to Send Kids off to College without Getting Upset

Many parents are surprised how heartbreaking it is sending their child off to college for the first time. It’s natural that parents feel a sense of loss. It usually takes some time to accept that their child is no longer a permanent member of their household. Many of them don’t expect the challenges of the empty nest syndrome. Realizing that letting go is the next stage of parenthood can make it easier.

Here is some advice to help parents deal with the emotions evoked by sending their child off to college.

Educate yourself.

Every transitional moment generates both excitement and fear. It’s a complete change of surrounding and a transformation in the parents’ relationship with their child. That’s why it often brings a wave of nostalgia or sense of loss. Psychologists encourage parents to educate themselves beforehand about what kinds of emotional distress they might feel once their child leaves home for college.

Parents can be better prepared by reading other parents’ experiences. Some parents only miss their children; others experience a deep sense of loss and feel as if their lives no longer have purpose.

Saying goodbye in the right way.

Parents who are about to send their child to college for the first time should prepare for the occasion in a practical way. They should resolve simple issues, decide which mode of transport to choose, and plan how long to stay upon arrival.

Drawn-out goodbyes are a bad idea. The final goodbye will be the most difficult part of the entire process. Parents should ensure that the last moments with their child are positive and not emotionally overwhelming. It’s best to save the tears for the ride home. The moment may be just as difficult for their child. Adding more stress to the mix is a bad idea.

Communication with a college student.

Decide on the method and frequency of contact once your child is at school. Some parents tend to hover and overuse means of contact, instead of giving their child space for becoming an adult and renegotiating the child-parent relationship. Parents should try to hide their concern when talking to their child and allow them to manage their feelings on their own. It is a natural part of growing up.

The child should have control over the timing of interactions. This will help to maintain a sense of freedom. This is key when the child is exploring new opportunities and making life choices. Parents should be aware that the child will be going through changes and accept this fact, instead of criticizing them.

Gradual adjustment to living at home.

Once parents deal with the emotional baggage of saying the final goodbye, they’re going back to a different home. They’ll notice the empty chair by the dinner table, see the perfectly ordered and desolate bedroom or never hear the constant noises of phone conversations. This is a transition every parent will go through and it is manageable.

If there are other children left in the household, parents will gain an excellent opportunity to focus on them — especially since the senior year of high school is a time when they tend to concentrate on their eldest child. This is the moment to rekindle this relationship and do activities with younger siblings — including those the college-bound child wouldn’t enjoy.

Parents also will realize they simply have more time for themselves. This time can be used to cultivate a new hobby, develop a deeper relationship in their marriage or participate in volunteer work.

Remembering that the empty nest syndrome is widespread.

Many parents are convinced that the so-called “empty nest syndrome” is a relatively rare problem experienced by stay-at-home moms who have no career to keep them busy. The truth is that even parents who lead dynamic professional lives will be affected by not having their child at home anymore.

Parents facing sending their child off to college should educate themselves in particular about the empty nest syndrome. The syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but it describes a wave of sadness, loss and considerable emotional distress parents feel once their child leaves home, even if they have always encouraged them to be independent.

One of the symptoms is also intense worry about the child’s safety and constant doubt whether they can take care of themselves on their own. The empty nest syndrome is particularly relevant to parents who have only one child or who strongly identify with their role as a parent.

How can parents experiencing the empty nest syndrome manage it? First and foremost, they should adopt a positive attitude and focus on helping their child succeed after leaving home. Parents also should maintain regular contact with their child and if the pain becomes unbearable, seek help with a psychologist or healthcare provider. Ultimately, parents going through emotional distress should remember that it’s a question of time and adaptation to a new environment with their child absent from their household.

Sending a child to college is a natural transition in life. Instead of rendering the first step toward adulthood an emotionally distressing event, parents should accept that this is the next step and from now on their relationship with their child will become different. Parents should focus on supporting their child and help them grow into an adult they’re proud of.

Moving into college dorm photo available from Shutterstock

How to Send Kids off to College without Getting Upset

Torri Myler

Torri Myler works at - a UK bank branches platform featuring bank opening and closing times. She has a strong background in digital marketing and new technologies which she believes have a great power to boost business and individual potential.

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APA Reference
Myler, T. (2018). How to Send Kids off to College without Getting Upset. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 3 Sep 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.