Health & Safety

How to Support Your Student Through Challenges

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By: Rhiannon Winner, Uloop

Whether it’s a struggle academically, with friends, or just an internal battle over what they want to do with their college degree, your student is bound to face challenges while they’re in college. It’s tempting to try and give them a step-by-step guide for getting through it all, but it’s long past time that you stop trying to fix everything for them. They need to learn how to handle their challenges on their own, but you can still be there for support whenever they need you.

Make sure they’re not afraid to tell you things

Your student doesn’t want to disappoint you. They know how much you’ve given to get them where they are, and it can be embarrassing to admit that they’re struggling. Having that guilt weigh on them won’t make it any easier to tackle the upcoming challenges. Remind your student (before they even depart for college, if possible) that you’re open to hearing about whatever challenges they may have.

Parents often like to think that their children aren’t afraid to tell them anything. But when the rough point in the semester hits and your student is at the breaking point, the thought of you getting angry with them can be too much to bear. In the time before your student lets you know about any challenges they’re facing, make it clear that you’re willing to listen to whatever they have to say without judgment.

Focus on being an active listener, and while you should help your student talk through their options or opinions, try not to scold them or tell them what to do. It’ll only frustrate them and make them more likely to hide bigger challenges from you in the future.

Converse, don’t lecture

Let’s say your student comes to you and admits their huge academic/friendship/financial/existential challenge. It’s important to keep in mind that doing so took a lot of courage on your student’s part. It can be tough to admit you’re struggling, even to a parent. Don’t punish your student for being honest by lecturing them on why they made the wrong choice or exactly what they have to do to overcome any challenge they’re facing. Instead, have a conversation.

Your student is going to be nervous or aggravated at best. Let them vent their fears and frustrations without judging them. Maybe you think what is upsetting them is petty and the kind of thing that’ll go away in time, but when they’re up in arms about it, playing down their feelings won’t make them ever want to share with you again.

When they’re done explaining the challenge ahead, don’t start bombarding them with solutions. Ask them what courses of action they’ve considered taking, if they’ve asked anyone else’s opinion and what that person suggested, and provide feedback based on those responses. You can let them know when you think something is a good or bad idea, as long as you do it in a conversational, rather than confrontational, way.

Don’t force them to share

If your student doesn’t want to share their challenge with you yet, don’t force them to. Even if you realize that something is going on, let them come to you. Confronting them won’t do anyone any good. They’ll be more open to sharing the truth and more receptive to your suggestions if it’s all on their own terms.

On the other hand, if your student does share whatever challenge they’re facing with you, don’t force them to over share. If there are parts of the story your student doesn’t want to tell, whether it’s because they’re embarrassed or simply sick of telling the same story so many times, don’t push them. They will share it in time if and when they are ready.

Offer them any resources they need

If there’s something that can help your student overcome the challenges they’re facing, offer it to them. If they’re struggling with staying organized and it’s affecting their academics, offer to buy them any organizational tools they need. If your student is having a hard time emotionally and wants to see a counselor, see if the school offers free counseling or if you can arrange to get them to a counselor. There’s only so much you can do to help them from afar, but sometimes, a student can feel a lot better just knowing that you’re there and willing to go to such lengths for them.

Supporting your student through challenges in college is a lot different than it was in high school. They’re farther away, you know less about their social and academic situation, and they may be facing challenges you simply don’t know how to assist them with. But as long as you’re always there to listen to what they have to say and help them in any way they ask, you’ll both get through it and end up closer than before.

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