When we hear the term “Separation Anxiety,” we often think of young children off to pre-school, crying because they don’t want their parents to leave. But Separation Anxiety can come any time your child leaves the nest — especially at college age. And it’s not just limited to the child — parents can also experience Separation Anxiety when their child leaves them.
When young adults leave to college or a gap year abroad, they are typically excited about getting their new supplies and linens, furnishing their new surroundings, and “finally!” being on their own. Parents are busy paying for all these new items to get said young adult “finally!” out on their own, to start their independent new life. But often, neither party speaks to the other about this major transition and how to successfully cope with this enormous change.
While the idea of going to college or spending a year abroad is exciting, to some, it’s a time of extreme anxiety, and a major component may be leaving the nest. Young adults will have to become independent and not rely on Mom and Dad for help with every day activities. They will have to get food on their own, clean up after themselves, and possibly learn to live with roommates whom they’ve never met before. The anxiety can go both ways, as Mom and Dad now have to deal with the fact that their baby won’t be there when they get home every day, might not need them as much, and will have to take a step back to allow their child to achieve the independence that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
Even the most independent people can feel anxiety when going off to a new adventure. Young adults can feel overwhelmed by their new routine, and not be sure where they fit in, now that they are not living amongst a family unit and in a familiar environment. All this is normal and will subside within a month or so. But sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s when it’s important to seek professional help.
Here are some signs to look for, for parents and children alike:
· Crying that doesn’t stop after a few weeks
· Excessive worry
· Nausea, stomachaches
· Trouble sleeping
· Feelings of helplessness and sadness that won’t go away
· Shortness of breath, racing heart, panic attacks
· Refusal to get out of bed to do every day activities
If you know that you or your child has anxiety, or are experiencing some anxiety due to this separation, there are steps to take to help ease the transition.
· Speak to your child before he/she leaves about what they might experience
· Encourage your child to join activities/groups on campus to help make new friends and secure a sense of belonging
· Make scheduled times to speak to your child — not that you can’t speak at other times but being too reliant isn’t good either. It’s good for both of you to be in touch, but at the same time, respect the space.
· Seek professional help, if needed
Parents and children separating can be hard at any age. Keep lines of communication open, share your feelings, and don’t be afraid of entering a new phase in your relationship.
Tags: going to college, separation anxiety