10 Ways to Say Goodbye to Your College Freshman

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it involves someone you love dearly. As parents across the nation send their kids off to college, Mighty Mommy shares ten tips on how to say goodbye without too much hysteria!

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #392

As August quickly comes to a close, there are thousands of goodbyes happening all across the country as college begins for a new group of freshmen. It’s bittersweet for both parent and child, but parting doesn’t necessarily have to be sweet sorrow if you keep this milestone in the right perspective.

True, we are saying goodbye to that little prince or princess, but in reality, this isn’t goodbye—this is a turning point.

It’s OK to grab your box of Kleenex as you embark on this next part of the journey, but don’t forget to hold on to your pom poms  as well, because this is also a moment to celebrate. Mighty Mommy has sent several kids to college over the past few years and has ten tips on how to bid farewell to your baby without too much drama.   See Also:  15 Ways to Show Your Family You Love Them

1.) Coin a Mantra or Phrase

When my kids were little and would leave for school, I always sent them on their way with a hug, a warm smile, and a parting phrase: "See you soon, you silly balloon” or “Later gater” to which they’d respond “in a while crocodile." It was some inane little quip but it always connected us and reminded them (and me!) that we’d be together again in a few short hours at the end of their school day. Obviously your college bound child will not be home in a few hours but you can still part ways with a mantra that can hold the same meaning which basically lets your teen know everything is going to be A-Ok until you see each other again. 

2.)  Go Out on a Date

Move in day at college is a total whirlwind.  Despite your best attempts at planning and calculating how you will arrive on campus, unload the car, haul dozens of boxes and storage bins up 3 flights of stairs, and help your student hurriedly unpack his/her life in a couple of very short hours—unforeseen things usually pop up and plans change. There will be chaos, new people coming and going, and in a blink it will be time to have that final embrace until you reunite at either Parent’s Weekend or perhaps even Thanksgiving or the holidays. In short, there won’t be any time for a long, heartfelt talk with your child about anything significant before you part ways. So that you won’t feel harried and rushed about getting in a meaningful talk before your student is on his own, schedule a date for just the two of you (or with both parents) a week or so before they leave home.

Many students go away for their freshman year only to be overwhelmed by the amount of “free time” and sudden lack of parental supervision. In our home, we made a point of letting our children know that though there would be less parental supervision, we would always be there for them with our love and support across the miles, however, we also let them know what behaviors were and were not acceptable. 

You might want to make a list of things you want to discuss: financial matters (like spending money and what the expectations are for a credit card); what your expectations are for staying in touch, and those safety issues like binge drinking, sex on campus and figuring out a buddy-system of sorts with new friends that your child can connect with and feel safe with while they are getting to know their new college environment.  See Also:  Make Money on College Textbook Buybacks

Having these discussions in advance of move-in day will allow you both to focus on these important issues privately without feeling pressured and harried those final moments before you share your good byes. See Also:  9 Crucial Lifeskills to Teach Your Child

3.)  A Written Goodbye

As a writer, I must admit I do share my feelings with my kids quite often by way of written words. This includes leaving them notes on the kitchen island, in their school lunches, and, yes, texting them messages.  Sometimes it is easier to share your sentiments in words rather than verbally, so don’t be afraid to head to the store and grab some cards to have on hand for the send off and for the year ahead.  I love to send good old-fashioned snail-mail to my college kids throughout the year, but for those Freshman send-offs I found it really meant a lot to my kids. My “See You Later” cards sometimes include a couple of family photos, a gift card for some place like a coffee shop on campus and any special written message I want to share that will let them know how proud I am that they are off to college and all that corny, mushy stuff.

4.)  Pack Memories from Home

Whether you have a sentimental cherub or not, sending some favorite mementos from home can really help ease your child into his/her new “home away from home.” Send along a scrapbook or framed photos of the family and pets. Maybe a much-loved throw that your student usually cozies up with on the couch at home, or a favorite air freshener or fragrance that will remind him/her of what home smells like when they walk through the door after a long day of classes. Get a few ideas from younger siblings so they can be involved in staying connected with their older brother or sister as well. I love sneaking in a letter or two in between towels or in their laptop case so they will have a letter from home unexpectedly waiting for them during those first few hours after mom and dad have driven off campus and they are alone with their new roommates for the first time. And don't forget a few boxes of Kleenex (for you and your student!). 

5.)  Ask What They Want

Goodbyes are tough on everyone, and when sending a child off to college we parents can get wrapped up in our own emotions and how we are going to handle the moment.  Ask your child what his/her expectations are for that moment when you part ways. If your child is a hugger, touchy-feely kind of kid, he may enjoy a “hands-on” good bye. If she’s more of an introverted type like one of my daughters, something quick and easy might be her preference. It doesn’t hurt to ask so you can make it as easy as possible on all of you.  Think about your parting message. Stay as composed as possible. Your child needs to know you'll be OK without him. The final words between you and your child are key. Say whatever wisdom you have to offer, whether it is 'I love you,' 'I'm behind you,' 'I'm proud of you.' Your child really will remember those words.  My best advice in sending four of my kids off to college is don't drag out the goodbye. Your child doesn't want you hugging and crying and having the long goodbye in front of their new roommate and the rest of the world. 


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.