The transition to college for parents/caregivers and students can be exciting and stressful, simultaneously. While parents or caregivers may no longer be physically present every day to support their student during this transition time, they are nonetheless a very integral part of their student's support system. How parents or caregivers and their student negotiate and accept those changes can be a relationship enhancing experience or it can be an additional stressor for the student. Here a few recommendations that we invite parents and caregivers to reflect on as they consider how to help their child be a successful college student.
- Remind yourself what an excellent parent or caregiver you have been to your student thus far. The love you have given them and the skills they have learned from you have prepared them for college life. Although you may be worried about how well they are adjusting, allowing your student to sort out the details themselves is immensely important as they move from being dependent on you to being more self-reliant.
- Communicate with your student. Since you know your student better than others, it is normal to see changes in their moods or behaviors. Talk with them about these changes. Listen to their thoughts and feelings in a way that communicates understanding. Even though your student may be showing signs of change it does not necessarily mean they are in distress.
- Be your student's adviser, not their problem-solver. Ask questions that might help them generate their own ideas of how to get through the crisis. Encourage them to solve their own problems by talking with them, not at them. When they can manage the crisis in a manner that empowers them, they are more likely to do this again in their adult life and will be more likely to seek your input the next time.
Signs of Significant Distress
Again, it is common and normal for your student to be experiencing new stressors in college. While these stressors may lead to occasional or temporary discomfort, the behaviors listed below may indicate cause for concern, especially if the student is exhibiting more than one of these behaviors:
- Drastic decline in academic performance.
- Excessive absences from class.
- Failure to complete assignments.
- Persistent signs of depression (sad mood; listlessness; lack of energy; weight loss/gain; withdrawal; excessive crying).
- Extreme mood changes or inappropriate expression of emotions.
- Preoccupation with food or body image.
- Anxiety, panic attacks, irritability.
- Aggressive or threatening behavior; homicidal threats.
- References to suicide or talk of death, hopelessness, or helplessness.
Guidelines for Responding
- Avoid criticizing or judging your student.
- Express your concern in a caring manner by using “I” statements that focuses on what you have noticed or what you are feeling.
- Know your own limits. Parents and caregivers can do a lot to help their student and sometimes, professional help is needed.
- Encourage your student to make an appointment with Counseling Care (308) 865-8248. Many students are hesitant to contact us but we meet with students for a variety of different concerns. If we determine that your student’s mental health needs are more than our services provide, we can help get them connected with another professional in the community.
Keep in Mind:
Confidentiality is an important piece of the counseling relationship. While it may seem strange for you as the parent or caregiver not to know what your student shares with us in counseling, confidentiality is meant to help the student engage in a trusted relationship with the counselor. Unless the student permits the counselor to share information with someone, we are prohibited by law to do so. If your student is under the age of 19, a parent or guardian consent will be requested.
Although we are not allowed to release a student's information to anyone without their permission, we can certainly take in information from anyone. If you have concern about your student, please feel free to consult with one of our counselors.
Students are challenged with managing a new schedule, classwork, developing new friendships, and getting involved with campus life. Respecting their time to let them accomplish all of this lets them know you have confidence in them. You can trust that while your relationship with your student is being revised, it is not being severed. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions regarding how you can best support your student while attending UNK.