How to deal with anxiety when your child goes to college


The last twelve months have probably been a whirlwind, and now the time has come. Your baby is all packed up and off to college. This can be an anxious time, but you’re not alone and you don’t have to feel that way either. Cindi Farmer, mother of four daughters who all attended college, shares her advice. Read on. 

Get used to the change

Is it common to feel sad when your child leaves for college?

It’s not uncommon at all to feel sad or anxious when your child leaves for college, whether it’s your first time or your fifth time. Parents have so much love for their children, and it’s hard to get used to those children being grown and gone. But that’s what it’s all about: getting accustomed to the differences. Try to approach this change with a growth mindset. This means that instead of looking at a challenge as a limit, you’ll look at it as an opportunity to grow. How will this change help you grow as a parent or as a partner? How else will your student grow into an adult?

Fill your time with new experiences

This is my youngest or only child. What do I do with myself now that the nest is empty?

It can be really hard to get used to the newfound space and time without your child. Try not to focus on what’s gone and what’s different and instead, focus on the new possibilities for you. What new things can you make? What kind of experiences can you design for yourself, your family or with your partner? Take that watercolor class you’ve been thinking about. Start a new home improvement project. Catch up with an old friend — maybe they’re dealing with something similar to you. It’s always helpful to talk to people who understand what you’re going through.

You can also support your student by supporting your student’s college. Colleges often have a council or association specifically for families and parents, where you can find all kinds of student support opportunities. Volunteer at a campus event, help make holiday meals for students who can’t return home over breaks, or donate to emergency funds for students in need. Your student and the university will appreciate your dedication.

Refocus on what you can control

How might it affect the relationship between my spouse and I now that our child is in college and it is just us again?

If you’re married, a shift in the relationship you have with your partner is also normal and often expected. There’s no longer that “buffer zone” between you and your spouse — before, your student’s day-to-day life was a main priority, and often what you may have talked about the most. Having one less presence in the house means one less distraction from the dynamic you and your partner share. Try taking advantage of this new space to spend more time growing together and trying new things. This is also a great time to relearn each other and re-examine how and why you initially fell in love. It can be intimidating, unfamiliar territory, but once you get the hang of it, the possibilities for fun and growth are endless.

Talk to those who can help

How can I tell if my anxiety about my child leaving is more than the average parent’s and that I should talk to someone professionally?

Feeling anxious about these significant changes is totally normal. You’ve had them close to you for almost two decades and now they’re on their own. You might have stress-fueled thoughts like, “What if something happens and they don’t know what to do? What if they don’t tell me when they need something? What if they get into some kind of trouble?” It’s important to keep in close contact with your support system: family, friends and other parents of students. It is helpful to be able to talk to others who can empathize with what you’re going through. 

When those anxious thoughts and worries start affecting your ability to go through the motions of day-to-day life, that’s when it’s time to look into your options for talking to a mental health professional. The stigma that used to exist around this idea is long gone now, and it’s important to take care of yourself. Never be afraid to ask for help, and look into some of the resources your student’s college may offer for parents.

Know your child has support

What if my student gets injured or can’t adjust to college life? 

Some students have difficulty adjusting to the campus lifestyle at the start. Most colleges offer extensive support resources, which can help students get better settled, find coping mechanisms, navigate peer issues and receive health care. Whatever your student may need to feel more confident and comfortable in their new environment, their school will happily support them in their journey. 


Contributor Cindi Farmer, director of strategic communications in Enrollment Services Communications at Arizona State University