Emotionally Supporting Your Soon-to-Be-College Student

Emotionally Supporting Your Soon-to-Be-College Student

Mom hugging daughter at college drop offTransitioning to college is a huge adjustment, both academically as well as emotionally. For parents, it can be difficult to know how to best help your soon-to-be-college-student during this challenging time, especially when the school is far away from home.

College is an exciting time but can be overwhelming, too

College is usually the first time teens live on their own and, many times, far from home. Suddenly, teens must depend on themselves for:

  • Making new friends.
  • Getting their own meals.
  • Doing their own laundry.
  • Managing their own schedule.
  • Getting themselves to class on time.
  • Studying effectively.

These new experiences can attribute to a lot of stress and anxiety for college students. Homesickness commonly sets in about a month or two into the school year, triggering the desire for teens to want to connect with the family and friends they love and are missing back home.

College is a common time for mental health issues to arise

Sad college student clutching her backpackEmotional issues are the primary reason college students struggle. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH), approximately 75% of mental health conditions begin by age 24, which makes the college years an especially vulnerable time for mental health. In addition:

  • Anxiety and depression are the top reasons college students seek mental health counseling.
  • Research shows 1 in 5 college students are affected by anxiety or depression.
  • Serious suicidal thoughts and self-injurious behaviors among college students are on the rise.

It is very difficult for parents to see their children experiencing these challenges for the first time. Luckily, parents don’t have to feel helpless – there are things Mom and Dad can do to help out, even from many miles away.


How parents can help ease a child’s transition to college life

Confident college student working on laptopEncourage your college student to practice good stress management and wellness skills.

As adults we know that practicing healthy eating, sleeping and exercise habits and balancing work with fun helps us be more successful, but your college student might need your support and guidance in these areas.

Address any problems you may notice with your child quickly and properly.

Show concern for your child in helping them correct the issue while recognizing and respecting the fact that they are well on their way to becoming an independent adult.

Set boundaries for yourself when it comes to sending messages, texts and care packages.

The art of “checking in” with your child can be tricky. It’s important to be supportive without coming off as overbearing.

Familiarize yourself with the mental health services on your college student’s campus.

These services are often free and students are given either a certain number of sessions or an unlimited number of sessions. Even if your student is not dealing with a huge problem, it’s a good idea for them to check in with a counselor in the first weeks of college – if the student feels like they don’t need to go back following this initial appointment, they don’t have to. However, they might find real value in the service of a counselor, who is in a perfect position to provide timely, on-site support, where parents cannot.

After just a few months, most students settle very well into college life and soon prove to their parents that they are able to do just fine on their own.

While it might take parents a little longer to get used to the newfound “empty nest,” you will no doubt take great pride in watching your children flourish before your eyes as capable, achieving adults!


Greg Mallis, PsyD practices at Pine Rest’s Christian Counseling Center. He attended the University of Indianapolis, where he received his Masters and Doctorate degrees in Clinical Psychology.

Dr. Maliis enjoys providing therapy for young adults, adults, and couples. His clinical interests include relational issues, couples and marital therapy, depression/anxiety concerns, men’s issues, identity issues, stress management, and the integration of mindfulness practices for anxiety reduction.

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