John Keats called autumn the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. I love that phrase. But of course, autumn isn’t just about nature, it’s also about the beginning of the academic year.

And thousands of young people are currently leaving home to embark on further education. So, it’s a time of change, which is exciting, though it can also feel pretty tough – not just for the students but for the parents they leave behind. Indeed, it’s sometimes so tough that mums and dads develop Empty Nest Syndrome, or ENS.

So, if you’re feeling unaccountably sad about a son or daughter having left home, this column is for you, because I really sympathise with what you’re going through. I know it’s painful. But I also want to assure you that it’s normal and will pass.

You wouldn’t believe how many robustly sensible folk I know who’ve been floored by ENS. I remember some 20 years ago, interviewing a well-known agony aunt whose son had just gone up to university. She was in bits, and confessed to sitting in his bedroom every day, sniffing a T-shirt that he had left behind, and weeping copiously.

So, this can be a horrid time, but what can you do about it?

Well, difficult though it is, I believe you should resist visiting your child for a month. I know this may seem interminable, but you need to get used to being without them and they need to tackle their new lives in their own way. They’re starting a course of study that probably feels a big step up from A-level work.

They’re dealing with the absence of long-term mates who have now scattered far and wide to other colleges and universities, and they may also be heartbroken at leaving the person who has been their romantic partner through the sixth form years. This is big stuff for them to process.

They’re also seeking out new friendships, learning to live with strangers and in a new area, and generally to fend for themselves. To do that they need to focus, and it’s better if we parents and grandparents trust them to do that, and give them space.

So, no matter how strong the urge is to make a huge casserole and drive with it to Sheffield or Brighton or wherever, it’s probably better that you don’t. If young people are sufficiently competent to get a university place, they’re more than capable of learning to cook. There are, by the way, some excellent cookbooks for students, including vegan and vegetarian ones – so if you want to do something really useful, post them one of those.

You can, of course, keep in touch. And you should. Nowadays, we’re very lucky in the many ways in which we can do that – and do it face to face not just hear a voice. But how often should you make contact? I would suggest that twice a week is fine, but don’t do much more than that. Obviously, your child may phone in a panic, begging for advice on various issues and that’s OK.

But don’t overdo the communication otherwise. Also, if you’re teary, hard though it is, do try to hide it when speaking to your children. With everything else going on, the last thing they need is to feel guilty that you’re miserable.

Be interested in what they’re doing. Ask about their new friends, the accommodation, the course, and whether they’ve joined a sports club. And, by all means, do suggest you visit later on. A date in the diary, perhaps mid-way through the term, is often a comfort for everyone and something definite to look forward to.

Meanwhile, you need to look after you. So, treat yourself with care and compassion, and find a shoulder to cry on among your friends and siblings. Also try to encourage yourself to regard the situation as an opportunity rather than a loss.

Maybe you can redecorate the bathroom now you’re free to spend more time in it. And how about rearranging the living room so there’s a corner now for your books or other hobbies. Altering your home to make it more about you is a positive step and one you should come to enjoy.

You should also enjoy the fact that you can shop less often because the fridge stays full for longer. In fact, perhaps, like writer Emma Beddington, you should give yourself permission to stay out of the kitchen if you want.

She wrote in The Guardian recently about how, having cooked for all and sundry for 25 years, her plan now all her children have left, is to eat toast and watch Masterchef. You on the other hand, may decide to walk the Suffolk Coastal Path, or enrol on an Open University course, or go swimming every day. There are loads of options once you give it some thought.

Lastly, don’t shed too many tears. In the current economic climate, probably at least one of your children will need to live with you again after they graduate. So, make the most of your time and freedom while you’ve got it.