Helping your child through the transition to university

When we go through change, whether that be by entering a new chapter in life such as university, or through the experience of a pandemic, our world can tip on its axis.

It is during these times of uncertainty and change that we can feel great loss or fracture. Uncertainty can heighten all our difficulties, and it naturally brings out part of us that longs for safety in the familiar.

Eating disorder behaviours can become more acute during these times as we look for ways to cope. By focusing our attention on details such as food, weight, or body shape, we can distract ourselves from the difficult and uncomfortable emotions we may be feeling deeper down.

As parents, we want to help our children through these tough times, but often, we don’t know how…

Lean in

Part of recovery involves seeking certainty outside the familiarity of the eating disorder, and so encouraging your child to lean into support mechanisms during a transitional chapter is key.

For example, knowing what support will be available at university or online, and knowing how your child can access this before they go away mitigates additional planning.

Excitement can be stressful

Moments of transition can impact emotions and energy levels. For individuals with eating disorders, even positive change is often difficult to manage and so be prepared that the happiest of moments can still produce unexpected stress on our mental wellbeing and recovery. This is ok.

Change can bring about uncertainty which can be difficult to tolerate when living with an eating disorder that necessitates control. Respond to the underlying fear with compassion and gentle kindness.

Self-care for the carer

If you are currently supporting a loved one through a transitional phase, remember that you also deserve the space for nurture.

Allow yourself to separate for a short while to anchor yourself. Mirroring self-care is sometimes the best way we can help our loved ones.

Compassion and patience

It sounds simple but remember to be compassionate to your child or loved one. It takes time to adjust to life transitions, so make sure your child has the space to experience and work through their emotions, so they build resilience and develop a sense of acceptance and clarity in the most turbulent times.

Taking deep breaths, slowing down and journaling how they are feeling can provide the self-care necessary to stay grounded in high-stress transitions. Hold in mind that they will get through this chapter, and simply walking alongside them (physically or metaphorically) with patience and hope can sometimes be all they need.

It’s easy to spiral when we’re in unfamiliar environments, with new pressures, people, and stressors. Encourage your child to stay present with their experience, being honest about their emotional response and how they are coping. Communication is key.

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