Brother smiling wearing graduation cap with two younger siblings, one on each side of him

Graduation: Adjusting to an Older Sibling’s Leaving for College

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article on the transition after graduation is Dr. Karin Ryan, PsyD, LP, Clinic Director, Outpatient Therapist   

Graduation: a time of celebration, accomplishment, and excitement for graduating students as they embark on a new chapter in their lives. But for families, graduation can also be a time of significant change and a wide range of emotions. Older siblings are starting a new chapter of their lives – excited and equally scared for the change. Younger siblings are adjusting to the new normal of not living with their older sibling every day. No more good nights, fights, or close sibling bonding time. Read more about how to make this life transition easier on everyone! 

Opening up the Conversation About Graduation 

One of the most important things you can do is to start talking to your younger children about graduation early on. This will help them to process their emotions and prepare for the changes that are coming. Here are a few tips for starting the conversation: 

  • Normalize all emotions. Even positive changes can come with a sense of loss. Moving away to college or starting a new job can disrupt family routines and dynamics. Dr. Ryan suggests normalizing these feelings and helping younger siblings understand that change is a natural part of life. It’s okay to feel both happy and sad about graduation. Let your children know that it’s normal to grieve the loss of the old family dynamic, even if they’re excited for their sibling’s future. Dr. Karin Ryan explains a “both and” perspective can be beneficial to normalize all emotions. For example, “We are so proud of Avery and so happy for her and she’s being so brave going off to college AND we’re going to miss her” 
  • Model healthy coping mechanisms. Talk about your own feelings about graduation and how you’re coping with the changes. This will help your children to learn how to deal with their own emotions in a healthy way. 

Related: How to Cope with Life Transitions 

A Summer-Send Off: Preparing for Change 

Another way to prepare for change is to schedule intentional family time. This could be a family vacation, a day trip, or even a simple bike ride. Creating these shared experiences strengthens family bonds and provides reassurance to younger siblings that they won't be forgotten in the midst of graduation hustle. 

Get the whole family involved in the college planning process. This will help younger siblings to feel more involved and excited about their sibling’s next step.  

Build new traditions. This could involve planning visits to see your child at college, or starting a new family activity that everyone can enjoy. By creating new traditions, you can help your family stay connected and build new

Related: How to Build and Maintain Healthy Coping Skills 

Maintaining Connections after Graduation 

Even though your child is going off to college, it’s important to stay connected. Here are a few tips Dr. Karin Ryan recommends for maintaining connection: 

  • Schedule regular check-in times. Even a short phone call or text can make a big difference. 
  • Encourage your older child to reach out as well. Let them know that you’re always there for them, even if they’re just calling to chat. 
  • Use technology to stay connected. Video chat, texting, and social media can all be helpful ways to stay in touch. These little digital touches help maintain a sense of connection and belonging. 

“That time of 5 to 10 minutes is going to be really meaningful” 

Dr. Karin Ryan

Related: 4 Ways to Support Children's Mental Health this School Year 

A Word From Nystrom & Associates

Nystrom & Associates provides a variety of mental health services, including family therapy, to help families navigate life's challenges.  If you are interested in learning more about how Nystrom & Associates can help your family, call 1-844-NYSTROM or click here to make an appointment   

Related: 5 Reasons To Go To Therapy 

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