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How to support your child’s mental health while they’re at uni

Here’s some handy tips on how you can help your child cope with the pressures of uni life...

Eleanor Foulds
by Eleanor Foulds
Last Updated:
22 Sep 2022

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University can take a lot of adjusting to, and your child might struggle more than they let on. And for parents, with your child so far away, it can often feel as if you are simply relegated to watching from the sidelines.

But there are step you can take to help your child cope with the transition to uni life, and with the pressure they may face over the next three years.

Make sure they are ready to go

Parents often fear that if their child does not go straight to university after college or sixth form, they may never go. But this isn’t the case. In fact, waiting for your child to be ready is the best option.

If they feel forced to go or not ready, it may be emotionally too much for them to manage. Your child will know better than anybody else when they are ready to go, so give them the chance to talk about how prepared they feel and support them if they decide to defer a year.

Ensure they make the university aware of any existing physical or mental health problems

You may not think your child has anything to declare, but even mentioning the slightest bit of stress they’re prone to can help in the long run. Universities have academic advisors and student support teams who are there to look out for each student, and they can ease the process of deadlines and so on.

By mentioning even the smallest things, these people can discuss the pressure your child may be under with them and adapt their course content and assignments to make them more manageable.

Remind them that home is always there

When you’re far away from home and having a rough time, sometimes you just want a home comfort. But plucking up the courage to ask if you can visit home can overwhelming at times, and they can feel like they are failing by running away from it all.

This is where you come in - whether it means telling them when you’re free for a visit, or sending your child links to train tickets so they don’t have to worry about sorting things out. Offering a helping hand towards home comforts can make that much needed parental love seem not so distant.

Care packages are still fantastic options to send to your child too, with some home comforts in a box to help put them at ease.

Keep the lines of communication open

We’re lucky to live in a world where just about anyone can talk to whoever they like any time they please, and this has never been more handy than when your child flies the nest. With the wonder of group chats, you can easily set up a group with your family members to keep the conversation flowing.

Without the risk of smothering your child, these larger chats mean everyone can get involved, and you know everyone’s okay.

Have a plan in case things get difficult to manage

Things may seem okay with your child, but there’s no harm in sorting out some plans in case things take a little turn. It’s not a criticism of you or your child to have some safety padding just in case, as no one knows what may lay around the corner.

Coming up with a plan together that suits you both as a precaution is a helpful vice, and puts less pressure on the shock that university may bring.

Remember that university is different to sixth form

Both structurally and in the lifestyle, university is a completely different experience to the education your child is used to.

For example, students often have a far less structured timetable and a lot less contact time with teachers, but far more independent study time.

If your child is someone who needs structure, help them plan out their own schedule and manage their time. They may be able to adapt quickly if they are an independent learner, but it’s worth looking out for them and asking if they’d like some structural help along the way.

Independence is good for mental health

It’s a shock to have your child move away for a long time, but it’s a process in life that is bound to happen at some point. Independent living is an important step into becoming responsible, and it works wonders on your mental health too.

For parents, it’s important to respect that this is part of your child’s process and by giving them that space to grow they can find themselves and learn how capable they are. 

Keep an eye on alcohol and drug consumption

Students notoriously love to go out and drink, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. A release every now and again is good, but sometimes students use these substances as a coping mechanism until it becomes unhealthy. Relying on alcohol and drugs can get dangerous really quickly, so keep an eye on your child in case their behaviour becomes erratic and potentially dangerous.

Learn about the university’s support services

Unis all have student support for exactly the right reasons, although it can take a bit of digging to find the right resources for your needs. With their own counselling and mental health support unrelated to academia, your child can be seen sooner than you might think, avoiding long waiting times for any sort of consultation.

Celebrate every little success

If your child is waking up and breathing every morning, that in itself is a success. Bumps in the road are frequent and challenging, but managing them and getting back on track is a huge deal.

Every assignment hand in, every social occasion attended, every meal eaten. Your child is achieving great things just by being in the position they’re in, so rather than dwelling on the 'what if’s', here’s your chance to celebrate.

Want more advice on helping your child get in to university? Take a look at our dedicated Parents section...

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