When Your College Student Is Having Trouble

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If your student is having trouble at college, you may be at a loss for what to say to help him. 

Knowing what to say to your student will depend on who your student is, what your relationship with your student is, and why he is in this situation.  You may be angry, disappointed, shocked, sad, or just plain overwhelmed.  Being honest with your student may be the simplest and best start.

Remember that your student may also be struggling with what to say to you.  Remembering that this is happening to all of you, as a family, will help everyone.  Taking time to let the news sink in before sitting down to discuss next steps may be helpful as well. 

Every student is different and every family is different. Your personality, your student’s personality, and the situation will all be factors in your discussion.  Here are a few suggestions to think about before you speak. 

  • Wait – and take a breath.  When you first learn that your student has been dismissed or is on probation or in some other difficulty take at least a moment before you say anything.  You may learn the news from your student, or it may come from the college.  Let the news sink in and don’t allow yourself to say anything that you may regret later. 
  • Think carefully about your response.  Your student may be nervous about how you will respond.  He didn’t set out to fail.  He didn’t deliberately disappoint you.  He may need your support now more than ever before. 
  • Acknowledge her feelings.  Let your student know that you understand that this is a very difficult situation for her as well as for you.  If you have been paying tuition, your first thought may be of lost tuition dollars, but that isn’t what your student needs to hear right now. 
  • Acknowledge your own feelings.  It is fair to let your student know that you are disappointed, sad, angry, whatever it is that you are feeling.  Be honest about your own feelings, but try to be as controlled as possible.    
  • Take some time.  If your feelings are too strong to deal with right now, or if your student is too emotional, suggest that you not discuss the situation right away.  Take an hour or a few hours or a day for both you and your student to think about what needs to be discussed.
  • Keep your discussion as objective as possible.  Ask your student to be honest about what happened.  Listen carefully with all of the listening skills that you can muster.  Try to listen more than talk at first.  Don’t respond yet. Get the facts.
  • Do your homework – or, better yet, have your student do some homework.  Find out from the college what this means.  If your student is on probation, what is involved?  If your student has been dismissed, will she be welcomed back later?  What would be involved in a transfer?  Study any financial information that is necessary. 
  • Be rational.  Try to remain calm and thoughtful about the reality of the situation and options moving forward.
  • Be clear.  If there are limits to what you will support, be clear about them.  If you have expectations moving forward, spell them out. If your student will be moving home and there will be house rules, negotiate them now. 
  • Be positive.  If your student has been dismissed from college, he knows that this is serious.  Most likely, he is devastated,  and may have a very negative attitude about himself and/or his abilities.  This wasn’t the plan.  What your student needs from you now is a positive approach.  Don’t minimize the situation, but do focus on moving forward, next steps, and learning from mistakes. 

If your student hits a major roadblock in his college experience, it impacts the entire family.  You and your student will need to work carefully to plan next steps.  Thinking about what to do is important, but perhaps even more crucial is taking care in the words and messaging that you use.  Although this wasn’t the plan, it can be an opportunity to build strong communication and relationship with your student.

 

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