Helping Your Student in Trouble

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Although parents worry about their students encountering trouble in college, parents need to keep perspective and remember that college students are generally resilient and will adjust and bounce back. 

However, if you’ve sensed that your student is struggling– either academically or otherwise – here are a few suggestions of things you might consider:

  • Wait it out.  This may be one of the most difficult things that you can do as a parent.  You want to jump in and fix things. But sometimes, you may need to sit back and wait to see what happens.  “Wait time” allows your student the opportunity to find solutions himself.  Wait time allows your student to realize that things may improve with time.
  • Open a discussion with your student.  Be frank in talking to your student about what you perceive and why you are worried. Your student may be able to reassure you or explain the behavior that worries you.  Just having the discussion may be all that your student needs to let him know that someone is noticing and is there to support him.  .
  • Encourage your student to stay on campus and work through the issue.  Of course, this will depend on the severity of your concern, but staying on campus and dealing with issues may be better than coming home and escaping the problems.  Encourage your student to make connections at school.
  • Help your student identify the root of the problem.  Sometimes a student is having a difficult time but doesn’t know why.  Helping your student identify the root of the problem is the first step toward making things better.  Being able to name the problem will help in identifying a potential solution.
  • Help your student create an action plan.  Once your student identifies the root of the problem, potential solutions may seem obvious.  Having a one, two, or three step action plan will put your student in control.
  • Suggest campus support.  Most schools have many forms of support for students.  For academic concerns, your student might turn to her academic advisor, her instructors, a tutoring or writing center, other students in the class or upper students.  For social issues there are resident assistants, orientation leaders, or counseling centers
  • Visit your student on campus.  While you want to encourage your student to stay on campus rather than come home, both you and your student may feel that you need to touch bases with each other in person.  You might suggest that you come to campus for a visit rather than have your student come home.  You’ll connect with each other, but he won’t feel that he’s running away from problems. 
  • If you feel that your student’s problem is serious or more than she can handle and you are worried about her health or safety, call someone on campus. Your call may be to an advisor, a dean, a resident director.  If you do need to call someone at the college, keep FERPA regulations in mind.  The college representative may not be able to discuss specifics with you, but you can at least alert someone to check on your student. 
  • Your student may need a break.  Sometimes, in spite of everyone’s best efforts,  the current difficulties may not be able to be overcome.  Your student may need a break from school to work on issues, find balance, search for a sense of purpose, or perhaps just mature a bit.  It may be a last resort, but you may need to talk to your student about whether he should withdraw from school or take a leave of absence for a semester or a year For some students, a break may provide the  opportunity to refocus and then return to school ready to succeed.

It is difficult for a parent to see a child (of any age) in difficulty, trouble, or pain.  Most college students will hit some rough patches at various points during their college career.  Most students will weather the difficult times and bounce back.  As parents, we will need to remember that our student is likely to be stronger, more aware, and more competent at the end of a difficult time. 

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