Ask AF: Smoothing the Transition to College

An adoptive parent asks AF's expert for help with how to ease the stress of going away to college.


Q: When I adopted my daughter, at age four, she had difficulties with attachment. Though she still struggles a bit, she has made amazing progress. Next fall, she’ll go to a college that is a few hours away. How can I support her through this transition?

A: The transition to college is exciting and challenging for all young adults. For some adoptees, separating from parents can trigger feelings of insecurity around relinquishment or abandonment. Even though it is their choice to leave, some teens see their parents’ support for leaving as rejection.

I recommend that you talk with your daughter to normalize what she is feeling. Let her know it’s OK if the imminent separation makes her feel vulnerable or fearful. You can say, “I am proud of you and excited for the wonderful times that lie ahead of you. If you have moments of doubt or fear, you can talk to me or someone else you trust.”

Try to anticipate issues that might come up–emotional or academic–and identify support resources to meet them. For example, get your daughter in touch with the counseling center, advisers, the academic support center, and some student groups or activities she might want to become involved with. Let her know that she doesn’t have to “tough it out.” She can come home on weekends, or you can visit her. Let her know that this offer does not represent a lack of confidence in her ability to succeed. It acknowledges that some additional support may help her succeed while she’s getting accustomed to her new life at school.