Six steps parents should take to prep a child for uni

Fiona Yassin is a psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor, as well as the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic

College student on laptop


Fiona Yassin (pictured below) is an accredited psychotherapist and founder of The Wave Clinic. We asked her to tell Working Dads’ readers how to handle their teenager heading off to higher education.

“It is not surprising that many young people feel overwhelmed and anxious heading into their time at university. And certainly, leaving the structure of home life for the first time and facing a host of uncertainties can amplify the struggle for young people with mental health challenges.

The pandemic too has had a long-lasting legacy on the mental health of the “Covid generation” of students, causing a sharp rise in young people struggling at university. In fact, out of 7,200 students surveyed by charity Humen, nearly half (47%) felt mental health difficulties negatively impacted their university experience.

Young people who were in isolation for long periods of time have missed out on key transition points into adulthood, such as going to parties, getting part-time jobs and generally exploring new places and new opportunities. These students are about to leave the safe and familiar environment of their home and step into a new and unknown world. Many will be excited, but others will find it anxiety inducing.

For young people struggling with their mental health, those feelings are amplified by a host of other uncertainties. Parents can play an important role in their child’s transition to university and there are some steps that parents can take to help ease the stress and help a young person feel more prepared, confident and secure in themselves.

Here are six actions that parents can take right now to help with their child’s transition to university:

Manage expectations about university life

Many students expect they will have the time of their life at university. And whilst many do, not everyone finds it to be the magical experience they’d first hoped for. When students arrive at university, they may have experiences that leave them feeling disappointed and isolated. For example, finding they do not get along with their new flatmates, or their course isn’t as exciting as they’d hoped. University life can throw out all sorts of surprises.

It’s important to help manage your child’s expectations before they head off to university. Being realistic about what’s ahead can help cushion feelings of disappointment if they do arise. This preparation may help them feel more confident to take on a challenge. Look back on the challenges you faced as a teenager and be honest about what you experienced. Sharing your own tough experiences may help your child feel less alone when they come to face their own.

Keep a good routine in the run up to your child leaving

This is a big time of change for you both and it is normal for everyone in the family to feel anxious. In order for there to be a really good beginning, there needs to be a good ending. You can help to achieve this by staying in the present and keeping a routine for the family both on, and in the run up to, moving out day. Sit down and have family meals together and put fun activities in the diary ahead of time. This is a time for predictability and structure.

Research the university’s mental health support system

Considering how to continue treatment for an eating disorder, for example, or where to find support for a diagnosis of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD can add extreme stress to the process for adolescents who may already be finding daily life a challenge.

Each university will have a dedicated support ecosystem. Take some time with your child before they leave for university to research the services on offer. Contact the services ahead of time if you have any questions and, if possible, register with those you already know they need access to. These steps will help alleviate the stress of trying to find the right support when term has started.

Fiona Yassin

Make this time about them, not you

It’s normal to feel grief, stress and sadness when your child leaves for university, after all it’s the end of a chapter and a time of huge change. Whilst it’s important to acknowledge and reflect on these feelings, it’s also important to remember that – no matter how much blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into getting them there – this step belongs to your child, not you.

Model calm behaviours for your child to mirror

There’s something wonderful in our brain makeup called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons get us to copy and imitate actions or emotions. One of the great things to remember in all parenting, not just at times of high stress, is if you model and show consistent, clear and calm behaviours, your child will copy and imitate these actions too.

Help them budget during for the cost-of-living crisis

As the cost-of-living crisis escalates, Nationwide Building Society has found two-thirds of students are struggling to afford their bills. Record-high rents and rising fuel and food bills are likely to be a big cause of anxiety for students over the coming months.

Every families’ financial situation is different. Try to be open and honest with your child about finances. Ensure they are clear as to whether you have the means to support them financially or not, and help them budget their loan, wages or allowance. Normalising conversations around money will encourage them to speak up if they become worried.”

Read more:

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