Anxiety About Your College-Age Kid? How Not to Worry
Parenting anxiety doesn't end when a child goes off to college. In fact, experiencing anxiety about college-age kids (young adults) is common. I've had many conversations recently about worries and anxiety around kids going off to college, and I just dropped off my own son at his school for his freshman year. Here's a look at why sending a young adult child can cause anxiety and how not to be consumed with worry despite all of the causes.
Anxiety About College-Age Kids Can Seem Boundless
Whether or not this is the first time you've sent a young adult child to college, it's the first time you've sent this child to college. Therefore, the experience is full of unknowns. Unknowns and uncertainty are key causes of anxiety. The human mind doesn't like not having answers, so when in new territory, it's great at imagining problems to fill in the gap and making up all sorts of possible negative outcomes, which in turn causes new worries and fears. Common uncertainties that can make life miserable for parents of college-age kids include such thoughts as these. Will my child:
- Fit in and find friends or be lonely?
- Make too many friends and party all the time?
- Wake up on their own and get to class?
- Handle the intense workload?
- Be homesick?
- Not be homesick and be glad to be gone?
- Get sick, maybe with COVID-19?
- Struggle with mental health?
- Eat well?
- Know what to do in the face of problems?
For, perhaps, the first time in your child's life--almost two decades--you aren't there to help things go smoothly. That can be unsettling and anxiety-provoking.
These anxious thoughts and feelings are a normal part of your transition into this new stage of parenting, but you don't have to give in to your worries.
How Not to Be Consumed by Worry: Create Anxiety Boundaries
As I write this, my son has been at school for less than a week. Even though this is still very new, I am calm about the whole thing. I'm not experiencing anxiety because I've created anxiety boundaries, a fence, if you will, with myself on one side and worries on the other. Use these tips to create boundaries:
- Visualize. Imagine being able to think about your young adult and smile rather than frown with worry. Imagine feeling calm and peaceful about where they are and where you are. Fully picture this and describe what that will be like for you. This creates the foundation for the boundary you're building around anxiety because what you visualize is what you focus on, and what you focus on is what grows. Knowing what you do want to have and how you do want to feel and be is more effective than thinking about the anxiety you don't want to have.
- Notice. To be sure, I'm not denying any automatic negative thoughts, worries, and emotions that come up. Denial and avoidance serve to increase, rather than decrease, worry because they allow thoughts and feelings to lurk and linger. Therefore, an important step in creating anxiety boundaries so you're not consumed by worry about your college kid is to use the mindfulness skills of awareness and acceptance. Notice your anxious thoughts, and simply allow them to be there. They'll come and go naturally. But you don't have to let them invade your personal space (after all, your child just moved out, and you certainly don't want this uninvited guest to move into their place).
- Introduce fresh thoughts. To stop ruminating (repeatedly thinking about your worries), use mindfulness to focus your attention on something real and tangible in your present moment. Also, when you catch a worry, use a defusion technique from acceptance and commitment therapy. Remind yourself, "I'm having the thought that (fill in the blank with your specific worry)" to remind yourself that the worry is only a thought and isn't necessarily real.
- Identify why you're proud of your college-age kid. In the below video, I discuss what this involves and why it is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your anxiety about your young adult child. I invite you to tune in.
Remember, too, to acknowledge your parenting strengths. After all, you've been raising them their whole life to prepare them for independence. Thanks in large part to you, they've got this. And so do you.
Peterson, T. (2020, September 24). Anxiety About Your College-Age Kid? How Not to Worry , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2020/9/anxiety-about-your-college-age-kid-how-not-to-worry
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, DAIS
I accidentally came across your article and video. Thank you for the visual of the sand. It’s very helpful as I have been working on separating my anxiety from me. My mindfulness training has helped me to witness the (anxious) thought and create space between me and it. Thank you again Tanya.