When Your Student Calls You with a Problem

I’m on the road again this week at New Student Receptions, Daily Deacers.  Here’s an oldie but goodie from our archives.


One of the most difficult parts of having a student in college is when they have a problem and you aren’t there.  When you live with your student at home and he/she has a problem, you at least get to see how he looks – you can gauge the degree of upset or stress using any of the million subtle markers you’ve come to recognize in your son or daughter.

At school, however, you get texts, or Instant Messages, or maybe a cell phone call.  And those contacts can come at times when your student is upset about something – and it seems like it has taken on Epic Awful Disaster Horrendous proportions.   And that makes parents upset too – you’re now stressed because your student is stressed.

In these moments, you might be tempted to swing into action.  However, I’d encourage you to think before you act, and remember that old safety training – Stop, Drop, and Roll.  What do I mean by this?

Stop – and take a deep breath when your student contacts you with a problem.  Is it REALLY, something he or she cannot solve on his or her own?  If you fix the problem for your student, has your student really learned anything or developed self-reliance and independence?

Drop – the urge to reach out and fix things yourself or provide instructions on how your student should handle the situation.  Instead, push back with questions: What do you think you might do?  What are your options?  What campus offices might have resources?  What have you already tried?   

Roll – with it!  This is easy to say, but hard to do.  Let your student do the problem-solving on his or her own (even if the solution is different from how you might have handled it).  Struggling with adversity builds resilience and helps your students learn that they are capable and resourceful.

Stop Drop and RollWe even have a handy graphic for this.  Print it out and stick it on your fridge for those moments when you need it.

I get a lot of phone calls from parents and family members who are worried about their son or daughter, and want some advice, but don’t want their students to know they are calling 🙂  Normally what I advise is this Stop, Drop, and Roll method.

In my experience, the vast majority of Frantic Phone Calls is the student venting his or her problems, and as soon as the venting is done, they feel better – and you are left holding the bag of worry.  So if you call, and I encourage you to sit back and wait 24-48 hours and not check in, it is not that I am being uncaring.  It’s that I believe your student has the wherewithal to fix the problem on his/her own, or needs to struggle through it and figure it out, which I promise will be much more beneficial in the long run than getting help from mom or dad.

Now OF COURSE if you believe there is a really dire problem that is of grave concern – imminent safety or wellbeing, etc. – you would want to consider taking a more active role.

— by Betsy Chapman

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