How to Deal With Empty Nest Syndrome

Tips to help you embrace this next chapter with less anxiety and more joy.

Getty Images
Getty Images

By now, your child may have been at school for a few weeks and you might find your anxiety levels rising.  Maybe you think about calling to check in and make sure they’re OK.  Maybe you vacillate between wanting to be tough and not call, and wanting to check in repeatedly.  Perhaps you question whether he or she is even ready to be away from home or question whether you did a good job preparing your child for what lies ahead.  All this is quite normal.  What’s happening here is that you’re doing the parenting thing but in overdrive. Worrying that your child won’t be OK will only spike your anxiety. So take a deep breath and repeat after me: “This is normal and my baby will be just fine”.

Here are 7 ways to deal with your empty nest syndrome and keep your separation anxiety in check:

1. Understand that you’re not losing your teenager. Your child going off to college is a sign that you did everything right. Trust that you’ve taught your child well and that he/she will know how to handle the many challenges that lie ahead and that is part of character building.  Get excited about this next step in your child’s life. You can replace any sense of loss by re-framing it and recognizing it as progress and accomplishment.

2. Expect changes.  College is time for your child to explore who he or she is and understand self-identity. Be supportive and understanding while not being overly involved. Your child away from home will undoubtedly develop new habits and behaviors. Be respectful of such changes.

3. Be calm. If your child picks up on your anxiety and stress it could end up stressing them out and serve as a distraction from studying.  Remember, stress can be contagious and naturally your child will want to comfort you. This will prevent them from assimilating into the college life. It can also put them in a tough spot where they feel torn: take care of the parents’ emotions or go out there and experience autonomy.

4. Talk to other parents. Your best support might come from fellow parents. They’ll understand your emotions and you can be each other’s best buddies through this transition.

5. Avoid telling your child, “These are the best years of your life.” This cliché only puts pressure on your child to actually make it their best years. Furthermore, they probably heard it already while in high school.

6. Discuss communication with the freshman.  Find out what their preference is for communicating. Is it through planned weekly phone calls such as Sunday evenings? Is texting suitable? Or maybe random communication is fine for everyone.

7. Don’t make any major life changes.  For example, separating from your spouse, moving, or turning your child’s bedroom into a rec room. These could all be perceived as too drastic of a change and would cause undo anxiety that interferes with the new life you wanted your child to experience.

So next time you find yourself anxious or upset that your baby is no longer home, remind yourself, with pride and confidence,  that he or she is all grown up now and about to embark on the next exciting phase of their life.

For more tips on living a healthy and stress-free life, check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

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