Ups and Downs

One of the most challenging things for college parents and families is deciphering their student’s emotions.  Instead of being at home across the kitchen table – where you can see your student’s face and body language – you are now conversing with student via email, cell phone, text message, Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram.

Most students experience a wide range of emotions – particularly in the first semester as they transition to college life.  Some of the common emotions are:

Excitement – meeting new friends, going to parties, feeling like a “real adult” now, discovering new academic passions, falling in love

Fear or anxiety – about fitting in, not being the best in class, bad grades, not meeting parents’ expectations, not having found their friend group yet, and/or about changes to relationships with high school friends or significant others

Stress – due to real or perceived workload, class selection, disagreements with a roommate or friends, or in setting personal boundaries

Happiness – from forming strong bonds of friendship, feeling that Wake is a good “fit” for them, from academic successes

Homesickness – missing parents and family members, pets, high school friends, etc.

Sadness – perhaps they have had breakup with a significant other, they don’t feel as close to friends from high school, or they have gotten sick for the first time away from home

Fatigue – from late nights, lack of sleep, overextending themselves

Students frequently call their loved ones after a significant incident, whether good or bad – a fight with a roommate, getting the first paper back or first exam grade, after a really fun weekend with friends.  So at some point you will likely hear each of the above emotions from your student.  Typically for the ‘happy’ calls, it’s easy.  For calls when your student seems distressed, it’s much harder for parents.

One thing to keep in mind is that whatever seems to be bothering them now might not be bothering them tomorrow.  They may have called you at a bad moment, when the drama is heightened and feelings are frenzied.  Often a good night’s sleep and a clear head make the situation seem far less dire to your student and they will sound perfectly fine the next day.  So don’t panic if you hear one bad report.  Frequently, a little bit of time or distance from the situation will help your student put it in the proper perspective.

When you get that frantic phone call, remember to Stop, Drop, and Roll:

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 it for him/her, does that help your student develop independence?

Drop…the urge to reach out and immediately begin fixing things. Instead, push back with questions. What might you do? What options are you considering? What campus offices might have resources?* (see the list below)

Roll…with it. Let your student do the problem solving on his/her own. The long-term benefits of building problem-solving skills and independence will last your student a lifetime.

As family members, you can help your student by listening – but letting him/her determine solutions to issues whenever possible.  And know that each experience your student has – the happy, the sad, the good and the bad – is helping your student learn valuable lessons inside and outside the classroom to develop character and maturity.


* If your student does have an issue that is serious and wants assistance with it, there are a wide range of offices they can consult as needed. See if you can ask your Deac if there are any offices on campus he/she might consult, such as:

University Counseling Center

Chaplain’s Office

Student Health Service

Office of Academic Advising

RA (Resident Advisor)

Or contact the Office of Family Engagement for recommendations at




For more information on how to contact the Office of Family Engagement, please visit our contact page.

If Your Student Has a Problem

One of the most important ways parents and families can help their students in college is by encouraging them to solve their own problems. Please bookmark or print out this Stop, Drop, and Roll flyer so you have it when your student contacts you with a problem.  Also, the flyer lists contact information for urgent and serious concerns where family intervention might be appropriate.

Orientation 2016 Handouts and Slide Shows

Select information and presentations from Orientation 2016 are available online.