skip to content | Accessibility Information

Parents

 

Going to university represents an important transition for your son or daughter and for you the parent. During this time, your child will be in a process of separation from you and home, and will be taking on far more responsibility for varied aspects of their life, something that can be exciting but also emotionally challenging. As the parent, you are likely to experience a mixture of feelings – happy for your child and their achievements but also worried about how they will cope without you there to look after them. You can also feel a sense of loss, for some much like grief, now that your child is no longer living at home, and sadness now that contact with your child is less frequent.

Supporting Your Son or Daughter through the Transition to University

What to Communicate

Understandably, it can feel difficult being at a distance from your child knowing that they will be negotiating the transition to more independent living in a new environment. It is normal to feel worried – you might feel unsure how your son or daughter will experience the transition and how they will cope without you. It is helpful however not to communicate your anxiety to your child. If you get upset, worried or angry when they talk to you then they might avoid talking about problems, wanting to protect you the parent. This can leave your child feeling more isolated and unsure who to talk to. It helps therefore if you can communicate to your child that whilst you trust in them and their capacity to cope, they can turn to you if needed to talk about any difficulties and you can manage this, listen to them calmly and help them think through what might help.

Maintaining a Secure Base

The transition from home to university can be emotionally stressful for the young person. Where possible therefore it helps if the structure of the family/home that they have left behind continues to be there for them when they need it. Sometimes parents wait until their child has gone away to university before separating, thinking that now that they are away it will be easier for them to manage the separation. At other times, parents make changes in living arrangements, for instance, letting a sibling take over the student’s bedroom, or perhaps moving to a smaller house in which the student no longer has a bedroom. Ideally, the family base would stay much the same whilst the young person negotiates the transition to university and takes time to settle. If they have not fully established themselves as an independent adult living separately significant changes to family dynamics/family home can leave the young person feeling lost and insecure. What your child needs in terms of their relationship with you and home may alternate between a need or desire to be independent and manage without parental support and a need to return to you the familiar secure base for help and reassurance during this transitionary period.

Renegotiating Contact

During this transitionary period, the issue of contact and frequency of contact will need renegotiating. Understandably, it can feel very hard now that your child is away from home and you have to relinquish usual contact. You might feel the need for frequent and regular contact because you miss them, because you are used to supporting and guiding them and because you want reassurance that they are ok. However, whilst it is helpful to let your child know that they can contact you when they want to, the frequency of contact needed by the young person in the process of separation will vary from time to time and young person to young person. Those that feel more secure might need less contact. Others might want less contact because they need time and space to re-establish themselves as independent adults. Your son or daughter might experience parental need for contact as intrusive or a burden. On the other hand, some young people might need a lot of contact with you, at least initially, in the form of calls, texts, skyping and visits home, whilst they re-establish themselves as adults and settle into university life. It is helpful, therefore, if you let your child establish frequency of contact whilst you let them know that you are there for them if needed.

Looking After Yourself

When your son or daughter leaves home for university, you will understandably miss them. This can be particularly difficult if it is your only child or last child to leave home or if you are a parent of an international student. You are likely to experience a sense of loss, sometimes much like grief. It can help therefore to explore possibilities around your own life and interests, perhaps taking up a new hobby and/or spending more time with a partner or friends. If you are struggling, sad or anxious, whilst it is helpful not to communicate this to your child, you can talk to a family member or friend, or seek counselling yourself if needed. Whilst it is ok to let your child know that you miss them it helps if they feel that you are ok and can manage the separation yourself.

Lastly…

Going to university is one larger step amongst the many that young people take as they grow up and gradually separate from their parents, to become adults themselves, who have internalised the good parenting that they have experienced from you. Whilst the transition to university represents the loss of the parent-child relationship that you have been used to, the bond that you feel for each other is still there. You are still the parent, it is just that your relationship is changing. Your relationship will be re-negotiated and re-established, becoming one of a parent to a grown-up son or daughter living a more independent life.

If you have Concerns

We understand that it can be distressing when you know that your son or daughter is experiencing difficulties and feeling unhappy and you are uncertain how to help them. If it becomes clear that your child is struggling and needs extra support, you can tell them about the Counselling, Health and Wellbeing service. Students can be encouraged to access the service on their own, by phoning 0161 247 3493 or emailing counselling@mmu.ac.uk and booking an appointment. There is also an Open Door, when students do not need to book an appointment but can just turn up, run between 1pm and 2pm Monday to Friday.

If you are seriously concerned about your child, please refer to the Help in a Crisis page on this website and encourage your son or daughter to follow the steps advised.

Whilst the counselling service needs to respect a student’s confidentiality and cannot disclose whether or not a student is accessing counselling without the student’s express permission, we will listen to your concerns and try to assist you in making choices about how you might help your son or daughter. You can call this service at 10 minutes before each hour (between 8.45am and 4pm) and talk with a counsellor briefly.

 

Suggested reading

 

Thanks to Queen Mary University London for their help writing this.