Talk within the family about what a son or daughter going away means to everyone, including younger brothers and sisters. Discussing feelings helps to prepare you for the event. You may be pleasantly surprised that you don't feel as bad as you thought you would.

Establish ground rules for how to keep in touch. This can be reassuring for both sides. Agree, for example, that your offspring will call every Sunday, using a phonecard which allows them to call home. They may call more often at first - and calls may dwindle to a trickle after a while. But it helps to have an arrangement in the early weeks.

Don't jump to conclusions about lifestyle. If your son or daughter parties all night and sleeps all day, or wears clothes you find offensive, don't assume they're doing anything other than that, ie do not assume they're on drugs if you have no hard evidence; don't assume your daughters are sleeping around if they have hundreds of men friends. Think the best rather than the worst of them.

Compare notes with other parents who have children at university. This will help you realise that you're not alone and others have similar anxieties.

Examine your own life. Until now a large part of it has been spent caring for your offspring. Just as they are undergoing big changes, so are you. You may suddenly need to work on your marriage which will suddenly be under the spotlight. After 18 years your needs will have changed. What sort of life and relationships do you want to have?

Don't make big changes to your life or to the home without consulting your absent son or daughter. If you decide to turn their room into your office, talk to them about it first. They may object strongly. If your marriage runs into the rocks, and you start to consider divorce, think carefully about how that'll affect your offspring. You may think they've left home, but they may not see it that way. They may find a parental separation devastating and feel they have no home to go to.

You should view your child going to university, not as the end of parenting, but as the next stage in your and their lives, such as the first day at secondary school or the first day in the sixth form.

If you have real worries about your son or daughter's happiness, try ringing the university counselling service. They are happy to talk to parents. They may not be willing to discuss confidential details about their student clients, but they'll listen to you.

Try to remember how you felt when you were 18 - and what your relationship with your parents was like.

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