How Soon Is Too Soon to Transition Your Child’s Room When They Leave for College?

By Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza

The move from home to college marks a tremendous milestone for both parent and child, a change that can feel especially marked if the student is the oldest or youngest in the home. For those with an extra bedroom in the house now—what should you do with the space? How much of your new college student’s bedroom should be preserved? And how long should you wait before converting the space for your use?

When I left for college an undisclosed number of years ago, my mother converted my bedroom into a guest room before I even had by bags unpacked at school. I had moved most of my belongings with me, after all, but more importantly, it was completely her prerogative. In fact, it was a great way to signal that it was time for me to fly the nest and start my own life. I always had a beautiful and comfortable place to stay when I came home on holidays, but I never felt like I regressed to my childhood when I returned—I felt like an adult in my parents’ home.

Change is good

Remember that change is good—it can signal emotional evolution and mark the natural and healthy progression from childhood to adulthood and independence, but as Dr. Soonjo Hwang, a neuroscience researcher and specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, notes, this time can also mean a dramatic change for some students.

It’s a quite a radical change for them because they have been going through the process of getting that autonomy, and going to college is the first time they’re getting total control over their own life, says Dr. Hwang. “It’s also a big change for the parents as well, especially now as parents tend to have a smaller number of children.”

Ultimately, the decision about what to do with the room and when lies with the parents, but considerations should be made to ensure the child doesn’t feel like they’ve been erased from the home. Dr. Hwang recommends that parents and children have an honest and genuine conversation about what to do with the space. The transition from home to college can be a rough one for young students, and many will come home looking for familiarity. “Kids may take that change as parents pushing them out of the home. Having an honest conversation about it is the best way to address this question.”

If there is a need to convert the space immediately, parents should be honest about this need. If you need to use the space for another child or as an office or guest room—talk about it with your child and let them know why you’re changing their room. But typically, Dr. Hwang notes, parents have more difficulty letting their children go than the students have leaving.

Staying home for college

For many students, their college years will be spent in their childhood bedroom. “I don’t have exact data, but there is a trend now of more students staying locally because of the rising cost of education,” says Dr. Hwang.

This arrangement can be more complicated for some, since college students often explore new things—like experimenting with alcohol and marijuana—that might not fall within parents’ household rules. If you have a college student staying in your home, have open and direct conversations about what is and is not acceptable behavior in the household.

Dr. Hwang also notes that he’s seen more parents following the trend of micromanaging their young adult children, so the college transition becomes difficult for both parents and kids by muting autonomy. This makes the need for open communication is even greater, especially for those who choose to live at home while in school.

If you do decide to change the room

If you do decide to convert your child’s bedroom sooner than later, you can make this transition easier by ensuring that the child has a welcoming place to stay when they return for weekends and holidays. So if you turn their bedroom into a home office, make sure it is still comfortable enough to serve as a bedroom: think daybed rather than fold-out couch.

As softer transition for the room is to convert it to a neutral guest room. This is a way to signal to them that you vote for their independence and growth, not their stagnation in youth. If you convert the space into a guest room, we recommend preserving some element of your child. Keep their furniture but update it with a fresh coat of paint or stain, hang a few photos of them with friends, or display their favorite books.

Over time, you may find that your new college student doesn’t need their bedroom in the same way—as young adults grow, many with lose the attachments that were valuable in childhood but not as useful in adulthood.

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