Preparing for the Grief of College Transition
When students go away to college for the first time, they are often overwhelmed with emotions. Feeling excited to explore their newfound freedom and independence is what most young people think about before the semester begins. Many new college students are surprised to discover that, upon arriving at college, they’re experiencing some unexpected emotions like grief, anxiety, and homesickness. These are totally valid emotional responses, and it’s important to help young people prepare for this potential response to the college transition, validate their experience, and help them navigate this big life change. In this blog, you can learn more about how to help prepare your college-age child for what to expect when leaving home for college – the good and the bad.
First Semester Grief (or First In-Person Semester Grief) Are Real & Valid
Most parents think that their college-age children experience some grief or homesickness for a few days or weeks after they’re dropped off for that first semester on campus, but studies indicate that these feelings of grief can last significantly longer. Students aren’t always able to identify the emotion they’re experiencing or they don’t think it’s valid, so instead of working through their complicated feelings about being away from home and everything they’ve grown to rely on, they suppress these emotions. Over time, ignoring these feelings can lead young people to act out or drop out, so it’s important to recognize and validate this response. By talking to them about these experiences and how they’re being impacted, we can help them to process the overwhelming emotions.
How to Combat First Semester Grief
If you’re the parent or caregiver of a student who has just headed off to college or who will be soon, here are some ways you can support them as they adjust to college life:
- Make time to check in with them – send texts, call, email. Stay in touch and give them opportunities to express any feelings of grief or loss they may be struggling with.
- Ask how they’re doing – don’t hesitate to talk openly with them about how they’re feeling. Ask if they feel homesick, lonely, or sad. Let them talk about it.
- Send treats – it may sound silly, but care packages can make a new place feel more like home. Sure you just spent a lot of time and money moving all of their worldly possessions into their dorm room, but send them their favorite treat and card. Surprise them with pizza delivery to their room. Just let them know that you’re still thinking about them.
- Welcome them home, but encourage them to stay at school – this one can be tough. New college students should feel as though they’re missed and you want to see them, but they also need to take time to adjust to new surroundings and start thriving at school. Encourage them to stay on campus and find fun activities, and you could always go visit them instead if they’ve been visiting you every weekend.
Is Therapy a Good Solution?
Possibly. Many college students adjust to their feelings of grief, loss, and homesickness that can be overwhelming at first. Over time, students find their place and start feeling more confident and secure in the college experience. If they’re struggling after the first semester, it may be time to talk to a therapist about the experience with someone. If your new college student is interested in working with the team at Lansing Counseling, please don’t hesitate to get in touch to schedule a consultation.
5030 Northwind Dr Suite 101
East Lansing, MI 48823