A Parents’ Guide to Surviving the Send-off to Uni
You’ve done it all – from the school nativity to exams and now, the big moment, sending them off to university. While we know that a Collection Pot is a great way to give your student funds from family and friends that they can dip into to keep them fed and watered, we also know that as well as a physical packing list, you may need more support. There are some big emotions associated with sending a child to university, whether you and they have been ready for some time or you fear they will have to find their feet as they go.
To help, we spoke to a range of leading psychologists, grilled parents who’ve been there and done it and also connected with graduates and professors to see how to make the transition smooth.
Steps on How to Perfect the Transition
Take time to reflect before they go
On discovery of 16 dirty cups and mouldy food containers in their room your instinct might be to say ‘see ya’ pretty fast, but it can be useful to have a day where you say goodbye in your own mind to the little person you’ve got to this point. Big dinners and showy ceremonies aren’t actually the best way to celebrate the beautiful ‘every day’. One Mum spoke to us about a simple trip to connect.
“I took my first born, and first child to head to uni, to a garden centre and we had her favourite lunch, walked about and I sort of reflected to myself on the many milestones and achievements we had both reached. (I daren’t say anything too soft or she would have just rolled her eyes.) I chose a day when we had not much else on, she was well rested, and I of course mentioned the promise of a lift into town later. I had a false pretence of needing her to carry or choose a plant – it was an extra day with her to look back. It can be hard to snatch these moments, so I was glad I did.” – Alison B, Northampton
Set a communication schedule
Dr Raffaello Antonino is a Counselling Psychologist, a senior lecturer at the Doctorate in Counselling Psychology at London Metropolitan University and the Clinical Director & Founder of Therapy Central.
He suggests that a communication schedule is the hidden key to success at this time. A communication schedule is derived from CBT principles and can be a way to get guidelines of when to talk, how to talk, and the boundaries as you enter this new phase.
“Remember, as parents, you’re adopting a similar role to a CBT therapist: supportive, consistent, and always ready to listen. Guiding your child through their university years is a journey, and CBT provides valuable tools to navigate it. A schedule for that is key. You want to keep an eye on them, yet you also want to give them the space to spread their wings. A communication schedule is like your flight tracker, helping you create a mutual communication schedule. In therapy, regular scheduled sessions play a crucial role in maintaining consistency and progress. Why does it work? It’s respectful. Setting a communication schedule helps avoid interrupting your child during an important moment or causing anxiety with unexpected calls – a concept which is at the core of CBT. Unanticipated stressors can trigger anxiety, but having a plan can help alleviate this.
It’s grounding. Consistent communication can function as a grounding technique, which is often used in CBT. Grounding techniques help individuals stay focused in the present and can provide a safe anchor during times of overwhelming emotion or stress. Regular, scheduled check-ins can help your child navigate the exciting and sometimes challenging university life.
It’s responsible: regular communication echoes the emphasis in CBT on the responsibility of the individual to engage actively with their process of change. In the same way, you’re teaching your child the importance of maintaining relationships and honouring commitments – key life skills that can lead to a more fulfilling university experience.
Using tech like FaceTime or Zoom can make communication more engaging and flexible, making the transition easier for both parents and students. Have a plan to set times and days, but also, prepare to be fluid. Life is changing fast for you all!
Talk about money
Finances can be a sore subject, with some students burying their heads in the sand. This creates anxiety for the parents as well.
Bayu Prihandito, Founder at Life Architekture & certified Psychology expert, believes that parents should use psychological principles to help get these topics out in the open.
“I would suggest parents take a look at how to apply NLP’s rapport-building skills, which can help if you need to speak to the child and make an open dialogue about financial expectations and responsibilities at university. This is where you adopt your child’s language, tone or non-verbal cues. You can also take a look at the principles of emotional intelligence, as it can ease financial discussions and prevent any sort of stress or misunderstandings. It’s essential to provide clear, empathic and supportive guidance on how to handle finances.”
See or stay near the university
It’s not always possible, but seeing the uni can be really helpful for you and the student. Typically there are only 1-2 chances on open days, but these are hard to ‘get a flavour of’. If you can, it’s great to spend time in the area, securing an Airbnb or similar to stay and see where they are going. This helps you, as inevitably they will come back in October or December talking about this quarter and that road – it can be useful to have an idea of who, what and where.
“I really liked going a few times to get used to the town, to see people and get a feel for it. Even though it was a campus, if I am honest I wanted to seem much more sure of it all than I was, inside I was really worried. Those extra trips with my mum and step dad helped.” – Louise Y, Loughborough University graduate.
Model how you take care of yourself and problem solve
It can be easy to focus on burning yourself out at work before driving them off to university, or packing weekends with admin tasks – but remember your self-care.
Dr. Elizabeth Campbell, known as Dr. Bethy, is a licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, and certified career counsellor in private practice at Life Directions Counseling, PLLC in Spokane, Washington. She believes that it’s important for parents to model good behaviours and to promote self-care and stress management.
“Establish healthy habits, such as maintaining a balanced lifestyle, engaging in regular physical exercise, practising relaxation techniques, and seeking social support. Set aside time for activities you enjoy and prioritise overall well-being. By emphasising self-care, you also equip your child with valuable tools to manage stress effectively and maintain their mental and emotional well-being throughout their university journey.”
Whether that’s you taking time to jog, make nice healthy meals, create crafts, or talking about your bad day and how you intend to tackle it (signing out for now, making a to do list for tomorrow, reflecting on what went well) you demonstrate how adults handle big problems.
Don’t go overboard on the packing
“My Mum sent me away with a huge duffel coat. It was the size of a sleeping bag. Like Arctic labels of padding. I never wore it and couldn’t wait to get rid of it.
“We also all moved in with one of everything, which was kind of good, but the kitchen was so crowded. We had so many sieves and rolling pins. I think we should have just bought it if we needed it later on.” – Tom, Sheffield Hallam University.
It’s your baby heading into halls, so we get it. If you can, try and stick to the tried and tested packing lists, ensuring that they only get what they need. With a Collection Pot you can have a bank of money that’s ready for them to check out when they need it, without any worries that they will spend it all at the Students’ Union.
Remember even good change is hard
Even the best changes represent one door closing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the right time, or a change that’s been really looked forward to – the actual day can feel hard. Take time to recognise this and steps to minimise how it feels. You can have a thought and notice that it’s a thought, but still choose to place your attention elsewhere. If you find yourself having catastrophic thoughts about the change (look out for ‘black and white thinking’ such as ‘I won’t get over this’ ‘It will never be the same’ ‘I can’t cope’ and phrases like I should / I shouldn’t), take some time to refocus. Write down a more balanced statement.
‘He won’t be able to cook and might spend all his money. What if he gets hurt?’ Could be changed to ‘He has a couple of meals to choose from, he can cook well, and he has a microwave! I am just a call away if he needs help and I will write down some recipes that are quick and cheap. He is also living with people his age, and Google! I will hold some funds in reserve for him. We will also set up a Collection Pot for some money to be kept aside for him. We can’t control if he will get hurt, but he is unlikely to get into trouble if he sticks with his friends. It’s likely I feel a more heightened threat due to feeling the emotions of the change.’
Easier said than done, but exercises like this, as well as mindful meditation practice to bring focus back to the present as well as box breathing and other techniques to calm the breath can all be really helpful.
Have they arrived? Don’t step in too early to help them…
Agam Dhawan, MD of Level Up Psychiatry is a psychiatrist who focuses on young adults and interacts with many college students and parents at this stage. His tip? Parents must train themselves to let go of those instincts to protect by stepping in too early.
“Your baby boy / girl is now an adult and having their first adventure in the world. You will want to protect them as you have before. But now is the time to let them spread their wings, experience things, and MAKE MISTAKES on their own. Of course you will always be there to support so there’s no life-changing consequences. But your child will experience academic issues, dating issues, and letting them develop their own skill in handling is the best thing you can do for them now as a parent”.
Ready? Set up a Collection Pot
This is a big moment, so give yourself some grace and kindness as you navigate the change. If it helps, think ahead to Christmas, where they will be full of stories of their adventures, appreciating your familiar cooking and soaking in family life once again!
If you know someone who is heading off to university – create a Pot for them. A Collection Pot allows you, relatives and friends to all add funds for the lucky student, but can also offer gentle restrictions on where they are spent.
Why not take a look at our ‘Off to Uni’ page and see how simple it is?
Remember, it’s totally free to set up a Pot!