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  • Writer's pictureKate Pedigo, M.Ed., NCC

"Soiling the Nest": Struggles in the Weeks and Months Before College


Mother and teen son
The transition from high school to college is filled with emotions

We've all heard stories about it, and we've all hoped our family would be spared. Unfortunately, many of us have no choice but to live through it.


"Soiling the nest" is a real phenomenon, and very common. It's the term used to describe the negative behavior changes our teens sometimes exhibit as they prepare to leave home and enter the independence and insecurity of their new life at college (or other new adventures).


You may notice that your teen seems more sarcastic, moody, and confrontational. That sweet, loving child who enjoyed your company now seems irritated by almost everything you say, or even by your presence in the room. They may rarely want to go places with you anymore, have meaningful conversations with you, or appreciate your advice.


Some parents are lucky and the "soiling the nest" struggles are relatively mild and last only a few weeks or months. For others though, the friction is so intense for so long that the parents are counting the days until they can drop their kid off at the dorm.


As parents, we all know that this is a normal part of our kids' development, and that they almost "need" to behave this way as they prepare to separate from the comfort and safety of their reliable home life. Having that wisdom doesn't make the situation much easier, however.


As an educational consultant, but mostly as a mom, I have some thoughts to share on how to survive "soiling the nest":


Talk about it. Talking to your teen ahead of time about the transition to college and the emotions that go with it will help them know what to expect. Asking their thoughts on how you and they can make the situation easier might encourage them take some ownership in the outcome and give you some insight as to where they're coming from.


It may not be easy to find the right time for this discussion, and it may take repeat discussions along the way, but keeping communication as open as possible can help smooth over the roughest edges.


Be easy on yourself. It can be hard not to internalize harsh words or bad vibes from our kids. And when emotions are high, we can make mistakes as parents and say harsh words ourselves. Give yourself some grace and remind yourself that this is temporary and you will make it to the other side of this rough patch.


Give your teen a little extra space. As a parent, you may want more quality time with your teen before college begins, but they might need to create more separation so they can have a sense of independence as they move to the next phase of their life. It can be hard on parents to feel cast aside, but in most cases, kids return to enjoying their parents' company eventually.


Love them even when they act like they don't want your affection. This transitional period is full of excitement, but also stress and uncertainty. Your teen might roll their eyes at you or groan, but every kind word, hug, or positive gesture reassures them that they are supported and that you love them even when they're prickly.


Pick those battles wisely. Every snarky remark doesn't need a response in the moment, and your reaction can give your teen fuel to justify their behavior. If you sense your teen won't be receptive to correction in the moment, it's ok to circle back during a less tense time to address the situation.


Have clear boundaries. Giving teens more leeway doesn't mean they have the right to be abusive or disregard your family values.


Get support. Vent and joke with fellow parents, either in-person or online. It really helps to know that you're not alone.


Sometimes more intensive support is needed though. If your teen's mental health or your mental health become a concern during this stressful time, counseling may be the extra support you need.


Remind yourself of the positives. Once your teen goes to college, you'll see them grow in a million amazing ways. And typically, they start to appreciate you again. They will still want independence and separation in some ways, but they'll also start to realize they don't know everything and actually need your help as they navigate college. You may find yourself being that source of comfort, reassurance, and wisdom once again, and they might even appreciate it sometimes!


Kate Pedigo, M.Ed. NCC is an Independent Educational Consultant and founder of Growing2College. Join us on social media for college planning updates, tips, and resources: Facebook   Instagram   LinkedIn    


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