If your child is just off to university and you’ve been dreaming of all the ways you could use that suddenly lifeless bedroom, you may want to put down the paintbrush and hold off for a bit on plans for a major room transformation.
It’s an emotional time all around, and experts advise against any sudden movements, tempting as they may be.
“It’s the mixed emotions of, ‘Wow, look at this potential space I’m gaining that I could do something with,’ mixed with, ‘Oh, my kid is leaving home and they won’t be under my roof each and every night,’” said Amy Panos, home editor for Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
With many families pinched for space, an uninhabited bedroom could become a place for work, exercise, relaxation or guests, or maybe a bigger room for a long-envious little sibling.
The best plan, though, is to leave that bedroom alone for at least the first year, Panos says. That way, students can return home to find the warm and loving environment of their room still standing, and they won’t feel like they’ve been forgotten or displaced while they were away adjusting to their new life.
“It’s important for the child to know they still and always will have a comfortable place to land back at home,” Panos said. “They’re still very much part of the family even though they’re not living in the home full time.”
A teenager’s childhood bedroom is meaningful, a private spot away from parents and siblings where they can shed a tear and be alone with their thoughts, said Vivian Seltzer, who was a professor of human development and behavior at the University of Pennsylvania for more than 35 years and is now a psychologist in private practice working with adolescents.
“It’s like a beloved sweater they feel comfortable in, good in, secret in,” Seltzer said.
She recommends leaving a child’s bedroom intact for as long as possible during the university years.
Of course, it’s not always possible to leave the room untouched, especially in larger families. But any possible change or new use should be discussed with the child, after the parents make sure they agree with each other, Seltzer said.
“That’s very important because a lot of times they don’t,” she said. “One of them has had an eye on that room and hasn’t mentioned it to the other.”
Remember, even kids who may seem too cool for school about their room probably really do care about it, tattered posters, rug stains and all. It’s a place filled with memories, one that bears a personal and sentimental stamp years in the making.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of that space for a growing child, even if it’s a kid who acts like it’s no big deal,” Panos said. “It is a big deal.”