The transition between going to high school and moving to college is a stressful time. Here are six ways you can support your college-age kid’s mental health.
1. Learn about Mental Health Together
One of the best ways you can provide your child with support is to show you’re willing to learn with and work with him or her. Spend time together learning about mental health and how the transition to college can affect it. Learn to recognize signs of anxiety and depression in yourselves and others. Discuss potential coping mechanisms your child can implement.
2. Get Involved
While college is about your child gaining more independence and responsibility, you’ll still need to be there to support him or her. Be ready to teach your child about how to keep tabs on his or her mental health as he or she begins to navigate the adult world. The best way to get involved is to work out a support plan with your child. Make sure your child has input on how he or she wants to receive your support and how he or she thinks you can best provide support. This way, you can be respectful of your child’s point of view and develop a plan together.
3. Discuss Taking a Gap Year
A gap year is a year that a student takes off, typically after finishing high school and before starting college, in order to work, travel or take a break. Gap years can be beneficial for students’ mental health by preventing burnout and providing students with more time to think about their college options and decisions. If your child seems stressed about the prospect of college, you can bring this up and see if he or she might be interested in taking a year off from school. Discuss the pros and cons of a gap year and how your child thinks a gap year would be best spent.
4. Be Attentive to the Transition
As a period of transition, the move to college is inherently stressful. Even if your child lives at home while attending a university, the increased coursework, responsibilities and expectations can take a toll on his or her mental health. You need to be attentive to the stress that this period can cause. If your child is living away from home for the first time, the physical distance can make this more difficult to accomplish. Try to stay in touch with your child through email or text and make sure to talk to him or her over the phone or video call at least once a week. Make sure your child knows you’re there for him or her no matter what.
5. Assist Your Child in Finding Support Services
Every school should have support services available for mental health and academics. Make sure your child is aware of these services’ existence and knows that he or she can reach out to them if the need arises. If your child already sees a therapist, psychologist or another mental health professional, work with that professional and your child to find the best way for your child to keep accessing those services while he or she attends school. There are also additional support services available for students with certain conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD. However, you and your child are responsible for contacting the school’s disability support program to access these services.
6. Prepare Your Child for Tough Situations
Tough situations aren’t things anyone really wants to talk about, but it’s important to be prepared for them. Even though it may make you both uncomfortable, talk to your child about risk-taking behavior, handling conflicts in relationships and friendships and developing healthy support systems, among other things. You should also teach your child some necessary skills for college and the adult world, such as time management and personal finance.
Every child is different, but if you openly communicate about mental health and the transition from high school to college with your child, you can figure out the best support options for him or her together.