For Family Members and Supporters: Help Support Your Student
An important part of a student’s college experience involves learning about how to manage their health and to be an effective advocate for their health concerns. For some students, this could mean learning how to make (and keep) a medical appointment, understanding how to get a prescription filled at a pharmacy, or how to give a provider the important details of their health/medication history.
Help them Prepare. Before your student comes to campus, and/or when they’re home during breaks, you can encourage them to do the following to practice managing their own health:
Encourage your student to call and make their next medical appointment and obtain general information about the appointment.
Offer support while encouraging responsibility.
As a family member or supporter, it can be difficult to know when to help, when to step back, and/or how worried to get. Usually your best guideline is to provide a steady, supportive home base while recognizing that there will be ups and downs in students’ needs and expectations. Try to follow the lead of your student and encourage them to work through a problem with you acting as the coach or cheerleader. Help them balance their thoughts and emotions to make their best decisions. Let them know that you respect their right to make a decision and that you will serve as an advisor when asked. Remind yourself to notice and appreciate the new skills they develop; students often want their families to recognize their progress toward becoming adults.
It can be tempting to respond to your student’s confusion and distress by stepping in and taking charge of the situation, directing it to the resolution you feel is best. While this may seem like the quickest way to alleviate your student’s discomfort, it prevents them from having an opportunity to realize and expand their own ability to confront difficult situations and bring about workable solutions. It is important that your student continue to feel your ongoing support and “safety net” as they transition into adulthood, while also taking an appropriate and increasing level of responsibility for working things through for themselves. Their solution will be their own, and the process of arriving at that point can be as important as the outcome itself.
Most family members and supporters have a high investment in their student’s decisions. Problems arise, however, when they are more invested than students. It can be hard to lessen involvement in a student’s decisions out of fear that the student won’t assume responsibility. The irony is that students often don’t step up to the task of being responsible until family members and supporters step back. After all, it’s easier to ignore problems when someone else is worrying about them!
College can be bumpy in the same way that life is bumpy. There will undoubtedly be times when your student will stumble, whether academically or socially. They might not get the grade they’d hoped for on an exam, or their relationship with their roommate might not be as easy or as close as they had hoped. Maintaining that connection with a boyfriend or girlfriend at home might prove to be more difficult than they’d expected. Whatever the scenario, it can be helpful to convey to your student that, realistically, there will be disappointments and struggles during their transition to college and during their time here, but that they can get through it and that there are resources to help if need be.
It can also be helpful to remind yourself that your student will encounter challenges—that things won’t always go the way you or they would hope or that resolving a problem may take some time—but, again, these situations are generally surmountable, and help is always available. Also, be realistic and specific with your student about financial issues including what you will and will not pay for, as well as your expectations for how your student will spend money. It is also important to be realistic about your student’s academic performance, recognizing that not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college. Help your student to set their academic goals; encourage them to do their best and to seek assistance if needed.
Balance contact and space.
Technology makes is easier for families to be in close contact with each other than ever before. Such contact can provide emotional help and support during times of transition and crisis, but it is also important to recognize that your student needs to establish themselves at Mount Ida and find ways to feel fully at home and comfortable here on campus. Part of the developmental challenge of the next four years for students will be to navigate many changes. These changes provide practice for the bigger challenge ahead: graduation and finding their way in the “real world.” Balancing staying in touch with your student with allowing them the space to make their own choices and mistakes is an important piece in helping your student succeed in college.
Attempt regular communication, but don’t be concerned if your student isn’t always responsive. Let your student set the agenda for some of your conversations and ask generalized questions. All in all, the less you ask, the more they are likely to tell. Unfortunately, students often only feel an urge to communicate when they are in distress, so you may hear about all of the disappointments without ever hearing about the triumphs in their lives. Try not to worry too much about the occasional emotional phone call or e-mail home. Be patient with that “nothing-is-going-right-I-hate-this-place” communication. You are providing a real service as an advisor, sounding board and sympathetic ear.
There are numerous people and offices on campus that are available to help your student navigate their time here. Take some time to look at the various office webpages and to review the Student Handbook to familiarize yourself with what’s available, so that you can offer suggestions when your student needs some assistance. If you have questions you want to ask directly, or if a particular problem arises, call the appropriate person, but make sure to involve your child in a collaborative effort to address the problem.
How Can I Tell If My Student Is in Serious Distress?