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 every nuance of your student’s face and body language – you are now conversing with them (or seeing them) via text, FaceTime, Zoom, phone call, etc.
So what do you do if you get what we refer to as the Frantic Phone Call (or text, FaceTime, Instant Message, etc.)- where they hate everything (roommate, classes, campus, etc.), or lament that they made a mistake in choosing Wake (“I don’t fit in here, everyone else has different values,” etc.), or say that everyone has already made friends and there is no way to break into an established clique, and/or they just tell you they want to drop out/transfer?
– First of all, take some deep breaths. While your Deac may sound stressed, upset, angry, etc., remember that this is the heat of the moment for them. The calmer you stay, the better.
– Let your student vent. Listen and respond with empathy (“I can tell you are upset, I’m so sorry, I can see how you might feel that way,” etc.)
– Resist the urge to try and fix everything for them. Hard as it is for us as parents/loved ones, this is an opportunity for your Deac to learn how to process negative emotions and work through them on their own – which is something they will need to do for the rest of their life. It’s helpful to build those skills now and realize “I am unhappy – but I am still OK. This will pass.” (It’s also a chance for us as parents and loved ones to get comfortable with the fact that our kiddos will have bad days and negative emotions sometimes – and that is normal. We can’t keep them from having bad feelings – we ALL get them sometimes – so we shouldn’t let their mood dictate our mood).
– Instead of offering solutions of what you can do, instead ask your Deac how they plan to handle their situation. Let them seek her own solutions, so they learn to build problem solving and resiliency. Ask questions like: what have you considered doing? what are your options? where on campus might you turn for assistance or support?
– Tell them you love them and trust them to handle it as best they can.
While the Frantic Phone Call is tough to receive, it’s important to keep it in perspective: what they are upset about 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. In my 22+ years of working with college parents and families, the vast majority of the time, students tend to vent their frustrations to Mom or Dad or family members, and almost as soon as they hang up, they feel better! Unfortunately now YOU are carrying the burden of worrying about your student.
I often counsel families to wait 24-48 hours before calling your student after a Frantic Phone Call. Often a good night’s sleep and a clear head make the situation seem far less dire to your student. A parent of an upperclass student shared their story with the Frantic Phone Call:
My son would call with the download of everything that wasn’t going well. I tried to be a good listener, but after hanging up, I took on all his stress. I finally realized these calls were his way of *venting.* When I would follow-up several days later and ask how he was doing with situation X, his response was most often “oh that, it’s fine, no big deal.” I then wised up and when I got those calls I’d say “that’s a bummer,” “I’m sorry,” “that sounds frustrating”, etc. He just needed a familiar voice and a loving non-judgmental listener.
So don’t panic if you have a bad call or two with your Deac. Frequently, the process of venting to a loved one, getting a good night’s sleep, and/or a little bit of time or distance from the situation will help your student put it in the proper perspective.
Of course, if you are concerned that this a serious situation, then it is appropriate to contact campus resources. For help assessing where to call, you can reference the Who to Contact for page or email firstname.lastname@example.org for suggestions. The University Counseling Center has guidance for parents and families who are concerned, and you can contact them if you have questions about how to help your student. In the event of urgent concerns after normal business hours, our After Hours Help page is a resource.
— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)
To contact the Office of Family Engagement, please visit our contact page.
If Your Student Has a Problem
One of the best ways parents/families can help their students is to let them handle their business as independently as possible. Use the Stop, Drop, and Roll method when your student contacts you with a problem, a decision to make, etc.