Leona O'Neill: How to prepare your teen, and yourself, for them going to university

The moment teenagers leave home to go to university is one of the most significant milestones in the parent/child journey. It can also be very stressful: as she goes through the experience herself, Leona O'Neill has come up with some top tips to make things as painless as possible – for both parties

Many teens will soon be leaving home to go to university
Many teens will soon be leaving home to go to university

THESE last few months, I have been navigating the emotional terrain of preparing my son and, in turn, myself, for university.

I've watched as the sun set on his school years, his friends have all their 'final' milestones and watched this new dawn rise – the next exciting chapter in both our lives.

Like for many families, for us this transition marks a significant milestone, signifying both growth and separation, and I don't think I'll ever be ready. But we are where we are, I'm sure a lot of you are the same.

While it's important to deal with the practical aspects of the move, it is also crucial to face the emotional challenges of what's happening. So I've done a little research and I've come up with a few pointers, for myself, and for anyone else navigating this minefield.


The rollercoaster of emotions leading up to the move to university can be overwhelming for both parents and children. It is essential to acknowledge and validate the feelings that arise during this time. Parents should create a safe space for open conversations, allowing their children to express their fears, excitement and uncertainties. Avoid dismissing or trivialising these emotions: instead, listen attentively and offer understanding and reassurance.


University life is all about embracing independence, and it is vital for parents to foster this trait early on. Encourage your child to take on responsibilities and make decisions, gradually giving them more autonomy in their daily lives. This practice will instil confidence and self-reliance, preparing them to navigate the challenges of university with greater ease.


Both parents and children often harbour expectations about the university experience. Openly discuss these expectations to ensure they are grounded in reality. While some may envisage an instant sense of belonging and academic brilliance, it's important to emphasize that growth takes time. Highlight the potential for setbacks and challenges, as well as the opportunities for personal development and exploration. Managing expectations can alleviate pressure and foster a healthy attitude towards success and failure.

Going to university is an exciting time for any young person - but they need help and advice from their parents
Going to university is an exciting time for any young person - but they need help and advice from their parents

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The prospect of being away from home can evoke feelings of homesickness and isolation. To combat these emotions, plan visits throughout the academic year, providing opportunities for reunions and support. Modern technology also makes it easier than ever to stay connected through video calls and instant messaging. By maintaining regular communication, parents can offer their unwavering support while allowing their child the space they need to flourish independently.


University life can be demanding, and it's essential to equip your child with coping strategies to navigate potential stressors. Encourage them to seek help from on-campus resources such as counselling services and academic support centres. Foster healthy habits like regular exercise, sufficient sleep and balanced nutrition to bolster mental and physical well-being. By discussing coping mechanisms, parents can empower their children to tackle challenges head-on and foster resilience.


The transition to university brings with it opportunities to meet new people and form lasting connections. Emphasise the importance of networking and socialising, not just for academic growth but for personal development as well. Encourage your child to join clubs or organisations that align with their interests, as this can lead to meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging on campus.

If parents are stressed about teens going off to university, it will make the whole process that much harder
If parents are stressed about teens going off to university, it will make the whole process that much harder


As parents, the best way to prepare your child for university emotionally is by leading by example. Demonstrate adaptability and a positive attitude towards change. Share stories from your own experiences that showcase resilience and the ability to overcome challenges. When children witness their parents embracing change with grace, they are more likely to follow suit and approach their university journey with a similar mindset.


The move to university is not just a turning point for your child, it is also a significant transition for parents. Accept that this phase of life will bring changes to your family dynamic. While it's natural to experience a mix of emotions, remember that this is a time of growth and newfound independence for both parties. Embrace this transition with an open heart, knowing that it presents opportunities for personal growth and shared moments of pride.

Best of luck to all those in the same boat as me. Although this is a real tug, if we can confidently send our children off to university, knowing we did our best to equip them with the emotional tools to thrive in this exciting new phase of life, it will make the move easier.