Supporting your child's mental health whilst they're at uni

Are you getting ready to send your child off to uni? The transition to moving away from home to go to uni is not easy – how can you make it more painless?


Just because they aren’t living in the same place as you doesn’t mean you aren't parenting them anymore. It is a new parenting chapter. They may be old enough for uni, but they are still a kid! Remember, adolescence continues throughout our teens and we carry on developing into our mid-20s.

Also, as this is 2022, we’ve become accustomed to them being home a lot more because of lockdowns and the COVID pandemic. As a result, you have probably spent more time with your teenager than you would have done a few years ago. 

Once they are away

  • Expect to hear less from them than you perhaps anticipated or wanted.
  • Talk to them about how much communication and contact they might want. Remember, you should feel proud to have raised them to feel confident and independent.
  • It's also OK to tell them you miss them, you love them, even that you want to hear from them at least once a week or every few days but don't expect too much from them.
  • Let them know that a thumbs-up response will usually do.
  • Help them to find other sources of support they can access.
  • You don’t need to be available 24/7 and you shouldn’t be their sole source of support.

It can often happen that, once they are there, they call you and it sounds like they are having the worst time and are really struggling. Hold tight, give it 24 hours and see if things have resolved by themself. This chat with you might have been all they needed to get things off their chest. It’s time for them to take responsibility to care for themselves - going to uni is not just about academic achievement.

There's a lot of pressure and expectation that university should be the best experience. There's so much pressure for this it's easy to feel like they’re failing at uni if everything isn’t amazing. Their time at university won’t necessarily be the best years of their life and that's ok.

Of course, we all want our child to fly, do well at uni and have a great time, but this may not always be the case.

Signs they might be struggling

  • If the communication really stops or gets very quiet – this is the time to start being concerned. 
  • Ask whether or not they are out with their mates and having a great time, socialising, etc. – this can be a small indicator of their state of mind.
  • You may even notice their mental health has deteriorated when they come home for the holidays.

If you’re already worried about your child’s mental health, try to open up a dialogue. Be open (if it feels right) that academic success might not be in their future. Can you visualise a life for them that doesn’t involve a degree? Consider if you are letting them go on their own path or superimposing your own life on theirs. Could it be you are unintentionally putting pressure on them? 

Everything they learn, all their experiences, and every choice they make is building their future. It is possible to lead a good and happy life without a degree and they need to know this is an option.

Once you’ve discussed this taboo subject, it should be easier for them to talk to you about their mental state and how they’re really doing and coping with the pressures of this new existence.

You cannot solve or fix issues with your child’s mental health – although it’s our default setting as parents to try and do this. The key is talking to them. Try and get an understanding of what’s happening with their mental health.

Try not to slip into solution mode, instantly trying to fix their issues. Just listen, as sometimes this is the best thing we can do. They will often formulate their own solution just by you giving them space to speak about how they're feeling and to be heard by you.

When they go to uni, it will feel strange to you as well; you won’t be getting the updates you'd get when they were at school.

Another thing you can do is to let them know who their listening group is – people they know they can turn to and access at any time – family, friends, their uni GP, student support services, the student counselling service – tell them that you are there for them any time, they just have to reach out.

Even though we want our children to thrive and to go and do what they need to do out in the world transition times such as this can be hard. It feels like only yesterday you were sending them off to school for the first time in their too-big uniform and a chalkboard with their class name on it. It's natural to feel proud and sad at the same time!

Talking about how you're feeling with a counsellor can help with this. I'll help you see the parenting wood for the trees; give you a different perspective as well as practical coping strategies. If this has resonated with you, why not get in touch to see how I can help?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for an initial, introdu chat by phone.

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