Your younger son is dreading his big brother's college departure. How can you help him cope?
* Your younger son can be the guy you go to, instead of his brother, when you need someone to get something from the top shelf or if there is a nasty bug to be gotten rid of.
Tell him you will need him to step up. And point out to him that it's not all bad. He may have a room by himself or more of his favorite dinner without the Big Guy eating it all!
If you also tell him you need him to help you adjust, he may realize it will be hard for you, too. He may also be afraid of not being as much a part of your older son's life. With e-mail and texting, they can stay in touch.
* Buy a camera for your computer and sign up for Skype. Then try to agree on a weekly Skype date so that the brothers can catch up. Sunday afternoons or evenings tend to be a good time for college kids to touch base.
Also, if you can, arrange a date when you can visit the college and let the brothers spend some time together.
Whether they're thick as thieves or prone to brawls (or both), your younger guy is no doubt wondering what life will be like without his brother in the mix.
Your job is to keep him in the mix.
"The younger sibling is going to have some anxiety about being out of sight, out of mind," says child psychologist Jennifer Powell-Lunder. "Set up a scheduled communication between the brothers — separate from the rest of the family — so he can expect a set phone call or text or e-mail."
Your college-bound son may balk at such a commitment, but remind him what an important role he plays in his brother's life, and emphasize that you will, of course, accommodate his schedule.
"Tell him, 'Your brother's really going to miss you, and I know it's going to be tough, but once you know what your schedule will be, pick a specific day and time that you can keep in touch,' " says Powell-Lunder. "And if it's not a good time, please text or e-mail back a good time to get in touch with you."
The correspondence should happen separate from the rest of the family.
"You want to encourage a separate relationship that's not only an extension of the parents," says Powell-Lunder.
"Especially if the older sibling has served as a confidant, that's a great loss. If you try to blend the relationship in with Mom and Dad, it suggests it's not that important."
Such a concrete and sustained parting seems an odd time to deepen a relationship, but that's exactly what may happen if the correspondence is regular and meaningful.
For your part, remind your younger son that college isn't forever and that there are frequent breaks for holidays and between semesters. Build some family time into those breaks so your older son remembers to include his brother in the mix of people he'll want to see when he's home.
Also, be mindful of how you treat your younger son once your attention isn't as divided.
"Sometimes parents are suddenly on the younger child like a fly to flypaper and the child isn't used to that, which can cause a lot of tension," she says.
Aim for the extra attention to be a positive — more one-on-one time with his parents, a chance for weekly outings, more homework help.
"This may be his opportunity to feel like an only child for a little while," Powell-Lunder says.