Supporting transition

Going to college is a time full of new experiences and change for young people. Living away from home, managing finances, new friends – all this can be exciting but also stressful. That’s not even taking into account college work and navigating a new system of learning.

Youth Mental Health Supporting Transition to CollegeIf your son or daughter is starting college, it’s natural for both you and them to feel a range of emotions, from happy and excited, to nervous and stressed.

Don’t be afraid to talk

It’s a good time to make sure lines of communication are open and strong, especially if your child is moving away from home to attend college.

Talk to them about how you feel and give them plenty of opportunity to talk to you.

They may not want to talk, which is fine, just let them know you’re there should they ever wish to talk. There are lots of changes associated with going to college and it’s OK to feel overwhelmed for the first few weeks.

Deciding rules/boundaries

Deciding on any rules should be done in advance of them starting college. For example, let them know how often you want to hear from them and why.

Practical skills

Think about the home-making skills they’ll need to rely on whilst in college, e.g. cooking, cleaning, laundry and managing finances.

It’s important they’re encouraged to consider these things before going to college as this could alleviate some of the stress they’re faced with. It might be an idea to provide them with opportunities to take responsibility for themselves around the house.

Choosing an appropriate college course

Parents should take a proactive role in assisting the decision of what college/course to choose. It’s a daunting task for anyone to undertake and any help could be useful.

While schools provide some guidance in relation to courses, additional support from parents can make a big difference. Here are some suggestions of how you can get involved:

  • talk openly to your son/daughter about what they’re thinking of applying for
  • take part in looking at the information colleges provide on the courses your son/daughter is interested in
  • find out when colleges have open days. If your son/daughter’s school is not bringing them, you could take them instead
  • have a look around the college campus with your son/daughter – is this somewhere they would like to go to college?
  • be open to what they think they’d like to study, or where they’d like to go. Offer advice, but, try not to be overly directive.

Additional Support

It can take time settling in to a student lifestyle and it’s not unusual to feel homesick or lonely, especially at the beginning.

It’s good to regularly check-in with your son/daughter and be mindful of how they might be feeling. Give them a chance to get any concerns or worries off their chest.

Some signs that might suggest they could do with a bit of extra support:

  • regularly missing lectures
  • missing deadlines or not turning up for exams
  • failing exams
  • hinting the course is not for them or they are not sure about college
  • not keeping in touch
  • losing touch with old friends
  • not sleeping enough
  • losing weight or gaining it
  • a sense they’re not settling in
  • increased stress or distress.

Going to college is a change in lifestyle, but if you’re concerned about the health and well-being of your son or daughter, try not to ignore those concerns.

Most colleges provide a range of support services for students:

  • medical services – providing on-campus medical care to students of the university
  • career guidance – helping students to manage their own career plans by providing a wide range of support services
  • counselling services – providing skilled listeners who have experience dealing with the challenges students encounter
  • childcare – offering practical help and advice as well as resources for students who need it
  • chaplaincy – offering pastoral care and spiritual guidance for students
  • health promotion – providing information on promoting positive mental and physical health, sexuality, weight management etc.

You can check what services are offered in their college by visiting the college website or by visiting

Tips for parenting through the college years

Starting college is a time of mixed feelings for parents as well as students. Many parents experience some degree of separation anxiety when the idea of their child leaving home becomes a reality.

However, there are ways you can help embrace change and nurture your relationship with your son/daughter during the college years.

Talk about it

Don’t wait until moving day to communicate your thoughts and feelings about them leaving. Sharing will help normalise the experience.

Set reasonable expectations

Your son/daughter may have been a super achiever in secondary school but may not get straight As in college. Your own expectations can continue to influence the expectations your son/daughter sets for themselves. Help them to stay motivated without pushing them too hard.

Be a good listener

If problems arise during college years, listen carefully to what they have to say. Support them in exploring options and finding their own solutions, without taking it upon yourself to solve their problems for them. Now is the time to go from manager to mentor.

Encourage them to learn about campus resources

Making use of what’s available in college will go a long way to helping them address concerns and solve problems.

Be positive and encouraging

But don’t push them to follow a particular course of action or pressure them about their grades. You can be clear in expressing your opinions, but trying to impose them on your son/daughter is likely to create conflict rather than positive changes.

Stay in touch

Your son/daughter likes knowing you care, but sometimes they experience resentment if they feel you’re intruding on their new-found independence. Express interest in their college life, ask them about their classes, activities and friends.

Support yourself

The college years can be a confusing and difficult time for parents. You may find yourself feeling sadness and loss about being separated from them. This is normal.

Give yourself time to adjust

Talk with friends and relatives. Take good care of yourself, including doing things you enjoy and using healthy coping skills to manage stress. Also allow other family members space and time to get used to the new household arrangement.


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