How to Support Your Child’s Mental Health as They Return to University

Sian Duffin, Student Support Manager at Arden University and Dr. Tom Lockhart, Psychology Lecturer at Arden University, explore the different ways you can best support your child’s return to university as term time approaches.


Father hugging his child

Returning to university can be an unsettling period for any student. It is not uncommon for students to be feeling a mixture of emotions about going back to study. While some may be itching to get back to their friends and lectures, many may be feeling apprehensive, too.

As a parent, supporting your child through this period is an essential part of their development, and finding the right approach when talking to your son or daughter about their concerns while ensuring they stay independent is a fundamental factor to a happy student experience for them. 

What is the best way of maintaining contact with your child while they are away at university?

Sian advises: “An easy first step is to create a group chat if you don’t already have one. That way your son or daughter can keep up with family news, but also have control over when they respond and what they share."

Think about other forms of contact such as letters, funny postcards, the occasional little parcel with something you think they would like. Small touches show them they still matter to you and you are thinking of them.”

How do you balance this with helping maintain their independence?

Sian said: “It is vital to set healthy boundaries. Let your child know when you’ll be available to talk and stick to that. Equally, if your child isn’t contacting you at all, take the initiative and set a time for a call and speak to them about making time for a catch up - unless it’s an emergency."

If your son or daughter is contacting you often because they are homesick, perhaps dig deeper. Ask open questions about how they are finding their studies, but also where they are living and their social relationships at university. Often homesickness is a mask for struggling in another area.”

Tom added: “One way of gauging your child’s anxiety level is to talk to them about the things that cause them anxiety and to listen to how they ruminate on their issues. Rumination is a pattern of thinking, cautious consideration, risk assessment and problem solving that appears during anxiety."

When you are talking to your child about the things that make them anxious, ask for specifics and offer suggestions as to how they might resolve them. When the focus shifts to these smaller and more manageable details, it becomes much easier to recover motivation, to address the problem and to move from anxiety to action."

Psychologists have demonstrated that adaptive levels of anxiety can be beneficial for academic progress and mental health. Of course, too much anxiety is problematic and can lead to unnecessary caution. Eventually, your child will learn when to stop worrying about how to write that essay and to start actually writing it."

What are some good coping strategies a parent can suggest?

Tom and Sian understand that returning to university can be an overwhelming experience for some students; however, as a parent, supporting a balanced lifestyle should always be the main priority to ensure your child has a healthy mindset. 

Sian comments: “Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and managing alcohol intake all contribute to a healthy mindset. Try new things and take risks. It’s never too late to find friends and interests in the most unexpected places. Even the people who seem most confident will have worries."

As a parent, emphasise that you are a safe place to talk, to ask questions of and to be honest with. Your relationship isn’t like Instagram, you don’t need your son or daughter to pretend everything is perfect if it isn’t.”