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Simple steps to cope with kids moving out

As teens leave home for the first time to go to university, experts give tips on how parents can deal with empty nest syndrome

By Lisa Salmon

Preparing to start university for the first time is exciting for teenagers, but can be extremely nerve-racking for their parents. Not only may they be worried about how their child will cope living away from home, but they may be equally concerned about how they'll cope without seeing their child every day.

For those parents who develop what's known as empty nest syndrome, symptoms may be physical as well as emotional, warns Dr Mark Winwood, director of psychological services at AXA PPP Healthcare.

As well as emotional problems, such as feeling constantly sad, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, feeling you can't cope, and irritability, there may be also physical signs such as aches, poor sleep, changes in appetite and having no energy.

Winwood says: "For many parents, the emotions they feel when a child leaves home can be quite positive ones - a sense of their child progressing in life. Yet for others, this can be an overwhelming and anxious time, where a parent may expect to be upset, worried or stressed and they may wonder how they'll cope without having their children at home."

However, Dr Winwood says there are many ways of making the best of this family milestone:

  • Don't be afraid of speaking to your partner or a friend about your concerns - it may help alleviate any worries you have.
  • Identify triggers that may indicate your mood is deteriorating, and this will allow you to get support from others before the symptoms take over.
  • Looking for other ways to extend your social contact, eg joining a club or even owning a pet, can help ease depression.
  • Remember that children can pick up on your emotions, moods and worries, so try to keep a relaxed atmosphere around the home in the build-up to the move. "After all," says Winwood, "it's an exciting new chapter in teenagers' lives and they may also be feeling worried about their next steps."
  • Taking exercise often helps with sleep problems. Eating well is also important, so try to eat regular, healthy meals.
  • Try using some of the tools of positive psychology - identify happier moments in your life in order to get through harder times. Make a habit of writing down three pleasant things that have happened to you at the end of each day - this helps you to reflect on the positive.
  •  If these measures don't help, seek professional advice from your GP, who can advise on the best course of treatment, such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or if you're severely depressed, antidepressants.

Psychologist Dr Kairen Cullen agrees that while feeling the effects of empty nest syndrome is totally understandable, there are many things that can be done to put a positive spin on this huge family change.

"Most parents give themselves body and soul to the family project, so when children are no longer physically present, it's no surprise that many feel as though they've lost purpose, identity and direction," she says.

She suggests:

  • Find some new activities or pick up old (pre-children) pursuits.
  • Relish having more time, space and money.
  • Make the most of family get-togethers, which are more special now they happen less.
  • Empty the house of kids' left-behinds. Offer them back and if they're not wanted have a car boot sale or give to charity.
  • Do as much or as little housework and DIY as you want.
  • Outings and holidays can be much more spontaneous and tailored to your preference.
  • Make the most of adult relationships.

Belfast Telegraph


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