BY RACHEL RICKAYZEN
Going to university is one of the most exciting times in young people’s lives. The prospect of living independently for the first time; meeting a new and diverse range of friends; spending time without parental boundaries; and becoming immersed in the subject of their choice: there is much to look forward to.
Leaving the comfort of the family nest can, however, also present challenges as young people transition into this new phase of their lives.
These challenges may be particularly great for those youngsters who have needs which required additional layers of educational, social and emotional support during their time at school.
The good news is that universities are experienced at introducing students to their new surroundings and support will be on hand.
However, one of the biggest shifts is the understanding that rather than support being proactively on tap, as in a school setting, students will be responsible for asking for help and support, whether this is with academic, social or health issues.
So, how can parents best support their children to prepare for independent living and their new adventures which lie ahead?
Seeking support is a strength
Encourage your child to know that reaching out for support is a sign of strength and maturity. And if your child has an existing profile of needs such as a learning difficulty or a diagnosed condition, ensure that they make contact with their university about this, in advance of starting their course.
Explore what can be provided
Universities will be able to advise on how students can be supported with their learning and what adjustments, such as extra time, may be provided. Additional assistance, for example, through the Disabled Students’ Allowance can also be applied for with appropriate supporting medical evidence.
Seek guidance from current school
Seek advice from your child’s current setting to find out what type of support they anticipate may be required on transition. Your child’s current school should also be able to provide documentary evidence of existing support, access arrangements and a summary of key documentation.
Get practically orientated
Applying to university in a pandemic may have meant that in-person visits were not possible before making the application. Suggest visiting the area online, and in person, so that the nearest shops and facilities will feel familiar. Find out what the best routes are for getting into town. Where are the bus, tram or train stops and how do I pay for tickets? How can I plan a trip home from university? How long will the journey take and what connections will I need to make?
A room in student accommodation will look extremely soulless on entry, so encourage your child to unpack immediately to make their room look homely; they shouldn’t live out of a suitcase. Getting used to new surroundings is tiring, so being able to flop on to a ready-made bed will feel fantastic!
Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone to meet people and take the opportunities available during Freshers’ Week. Freshers’ events are often publicised before the start of term and so encourage your child to consider what interests them (eg religious groups, neurodiverse groups, and hobbies). Don’t worry if Freshers’ Week doesn’t feel amazing. It can take a while to settle and even though other students may look super confident, they aren’t necessarily feeling it.
Encouraging your child to carve out regular time for self-care sounds obvious, but it can all too easily be forgotten and it is an important part of maintaining their wellbeing. Support them in putting a toiletries kit together, where they include their favourite shower gels and deodorants etc. Don’t forget the less obvious things like nail scissors and remind them that when the bristles on their toothbrush are getting splayed, it’s time to get a new one!
Prepare them in advance, for independent living. Ensure that they can do their laundry, clean their room and cook some basic meals. (Even catered halls may not provide every meal.)
Keeping well in body…
Create a first aid kit and include instructions where necessary. Discuss with them what to do if they feel unwell; if they have generally sailed through life without much illness, do they recognise the signs of a high fever? Ensure they know where the medical centre is and who to call if they really feel unwell.
What regular exercise are they hoping to do and are there any sports that they want to get involved with? Remind them that even a daily walk is important.
Sleep patterns can often get disrupted with late night social events; this is part of the rite of being a student. However, good quality sleep is important for health and will also enable them to study well. Partying all night and sleeping all day is not a healthy objective! If they don’t already use a good alarm, it might be worth discussing how they are going to get up in the mornings.
…and in mind
It might be helpful for the young adult to consider what helps them feel relaxed and supported: what strategies do they already employ, for example, talking to family or friends, exercise, a relaxing bath, watching comedy, playing music to look after their mental health? What would they like to prepare, as a well-being toolkit, to take with them? Perhaps they could include their favourite Spotify list, a photo album to look through, an adult mindful colouring book or a special notebook in which to journal their thoughts and feelings or a gratitude diary. Perhaps also include something tactile, such as an old soft toy or bed throw.
Rachel Rickayzen, Occupational Therapist and Life Coach who specialises in supporting transitions between life phases. She can be contacted via her profile on LinkedIn.
Image Credit: Artwork by Ria Mishaal