Coaching Your Student Through Difficult Times
Adapted, with gratitude, from Letting Go (Third Edition) by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger, 2009
Throughout an academic year, students experience ups and downs and find support by calling their parents. The impact of life’s pleasures and challenges are measured through 10-minute cell phone calls, short e-mails and text messages. Most information brightens parents’ days, from their student receiving an A on a paper to an athletic team win. On other occasions, complaints, frustrations and depression are carried through dull conversations or shrill cries that interrupt a parent’s already busy work day.
When students are feeling unhappy, parents often react too quickly. Some parents react to one conversation or one problem, rather than assessing the totality of their student’s experience. In turn, parents jump to conclusions and try to solve their students’ problems for them.
“Every time I call home depressed, my mom either starts sounding depressed herself, or she says maybe I should come home, like I obviously can’t handle things. That’s the last thing I want to hear.”
In other situations, parents call the University to solve their student’s problem, sometimes making the problem bigger than it originally was. Parents should keep in mind that many students admit to calling home when they want to complain. They tend to share their good times with friends at school.
“There’s only so much you can complain around here, because everyone complains so much. I have four papers due. My friends’ attitudes are, ‘So what!’ They’ll be bitching about their own heavy load…so you can call home for pity.”
Often, when students try to share the good news (along with their troubles), they find it difficult to describe the day-to-day activities within their Southwestern experience. They focus on the negative to receive comfort, advice and simply an ear to listen. For other students, complicated moments of independence and the exploration of new possibilities frighten them. In turn, they go to their parents to be taken care of, asking them to handle the “problem.”
Families can embrace these situations as opportunities for students to develop and learn. So, how can you create an educational opportunity our of your student’s problem?
1. Help your student problem-solve.
If your student calls home with a problem, stay calm. For example, you could respond with, “I’m sorry you are having a rough time. How are you going to handle it?”
2. Coach, don’t rescue.
Encourage your student to use the University’s resources, instead of relying on you to help. (Use your Parent Handbook for a list of resources). For example, give advice on how they can talk things through with their roommate or how to call their professor.
During the course of their time at Southwestern, all students unsurprisingly experience short periods of minor illness. When they suffer from colds and the flu, as expected, students miss the comforts of home. When feeling their worst, they call family members seeking comfort and consolation. Parents are often caught off guard the first time that this happens.
“The second or third week of school, he called and said, ‘Mom, what do you do for a real bad earache?’ What I wanted to say was, ‘You put the phone down and wait for your mother, and I’ll be there in four hours.”
Instead, encourage your student to visit the Office of Health Services, located in the Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Center for Lifelong Learning. The on-campus health care team at Southwestern includes a registered nurse, part-time physician and a part-time physician assistant. The nurse is available daily for drop-in visits. When appropriate, she will schedule students to see the physician or the physician assistant, who are on campus for a limited number of hours each week. Working as a team, they are able to treat most of the common health concerns of college students, including routine women’s health issues. There is also a range of common, over-the-counter medications available to students at no charge.
Unfortunately, some parents encounter phone calls that bring news of a student’s serious illness or accident. Most parents expect Southwestern to keep them informed of serious medical problems, however, the University treats students as adults and encourages them to contact their parents themselves. Therefore, some parents do not find out about incidents until after the fact. Please keep in mind that the University is trying to foster your student’s independence and will trust your student to contact you unless the situation requires more immediate action.
When students experience serious medical problems, parents are challenged to trust unfamiliar medical caretakers and their student’s ability to follow through. Here, parents can partner with administrators to give support and encouragement a student will need. Depending on the situation, a student may need a lighter course load or leave of absence. These arrangements are less common but are made when all are in agreement.
The faculty and staff at Southwestern want for your student what you want - success, happiness, health, safety, challenge and growth. By partnering with the University, you can help us create a well-rounded, educational environment for your student.