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 email, cell phone/FaceTime, text message, Instagram, etc.
Most students experience a wide range of emotions in the first few weeks of transitioning to college life. The pandemic makes this even harder: in addition to the normal adjustment issues of college that everyone has, now COVID is on everyone’s minds. Some of the emotions your Deac might be feeling are:
Excitement – meeting new friends, being on your own, feeling like a “real adult” now, discovering a class you really like, having a crush on/attraction to one of your fellow students
Anxiety or fear – about fitting in, not getting good grades, not meeting their loved one’s expectations, not having found their friend group yet, and/or about changes to relationships with high school friends or significant others. Add to it the fear of getting COVID or getting in trouble for breaking COVID-related rules.
Stress – due to real or perceived workload, class selection, disagreements with a roommate or friends, etc. COVID also can add stress around setting personal boundaries (being vigilant about masking, distancing) or the fear of being in isolation or quarantine.
Happiness – from making friends, feeling glad to be in a new place after months of staying home, or due to academic successes
Homesickness or isolation – missing parents and family members, pets, high school friends, etc. Or feeling isolated because it is hard to feel connected given the pandemic and the limits on traditional college social activities like parties.
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. They might also be mourning the loss of a “normal” college experience because of the pandemic.
Fatigue – from late nights, lack of sleep, overextending themselves, etc.
Students frequently call their loved ones after a significant incident, whether good or bad – a fight with a friend or roommate, getting a bad grade on a paper or exam, or after a really fun time with friends. So at some point you will likely hear each of the above emotions from your student (and others not mentioned). Typically for the ‘happy’ calls, it’s easy. For calls when your student seems distressed, it’s much harder for parents and families.
One thing to keep in mind is that 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. Often a good night’s sleep and a clear head make the situation seem far less dire to your student and they will sound fine the next day. So don’t panic if you have a bad call or two with your Deac. Frequently, a little bit of time or distance from the situation will help your student put it in the proper perspective.
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. It’s also important to manage any anxiety you might feel about your student and not project it onto them. Refer to Stop, Drop, and Roll as needed.
* 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. But let your Deac do the work and make contact on their own. Suggestions are:
RA (Resident Adviser)
Or contact us at email@example.com.
And remember that one of the keys to feeling connected on campus (and meeting other people) is getting involved in student organizations. If your Deac has not yet joined some things, urge them to look at the Virtual Involvement Fair and reach out to the organizations they want to join (most have a website or an email they list in their video) or schedule time in the Office of Student Engagement’s virtual office hours.
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 solve their own problems. Use the Stop, Drop, and Roll method when your student contacts you with a problem. The flyer also lists contact information for serious concerns where family intervention might be appropriate.
Orientation 2020 slide shows
Parent and family Orientation sessions are available online.