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 or a challenging situation, you at least get to see how he/she looks – and you can gauge how stressed your student is.
At school, however, you get texts, or Instant Messages, or maybe a phone call. Those contacts can come at times when your student is upset about something – and it seems like it has taken on epic proportions. Now you’re stressed because your student is stressed.
Or maybe the call is venting a frustration about having so many things to do (I have a chem test coming up, and I have a cold, but I also have to talk to some office on campus to figure out how to get X accomplished and I don’t have time to deal with all this!) and you think maybe you can help your student if you call the office in question yourself and take care of it yourself.
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 or take care of the situation yourself, has your student really learned anything or developed self-reliance and independence? Will your intended action help your student learn how to juggle multiple priorities and take care of things?
Drop – the urge to fix things yourself or provide detailed 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? Who have you talked to about this already (your RA? adviser? etc.) Those kinds of questions can help prompt your Deac to figure out next steps (without you directing those next steps).
Roll – with it! This is easy to say, but hard to do. Let your student do the problem-solving and decision-making 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.
Some additional points to consider:
The Frantic Phone Call – your student may call you with a series of problems: a bad grade on a test, or friend issues, general stress, an inconvenience, you name it. Often as soon as they have vented to you, they feel better – but you are left holding the bag of worry. A Deac mom explains:
Quite often over the first year I would get the phone call with the download of everything that wasn’t going well, and the many frustrations. I tried to be a good listener and stay calm, suggested where he might look for help, and gave some advice, but after hanging up the phone I naturally took on all his stress and put it in one of my worry compartments. I finally realized these calls were his way of venting, having a bad day, starting to get sick, relaying something he found unfair, etc. The humor in it all was when I would follow-up several days later and delicately ask how he was doing with situation X, person Y, professor Z, his response was most often What? Oh that, yeah, it’s fine, not a big deal. I then wised up and when I got the calls I said a lot of That’s a bummer, Hmmm, Really?, I’m sorry, that sounds frustrating, etc.
Of course if you believe there is a problem of grave concern – imminent safety or wellbeing, etc. – you might want to take a more active role.
Help that Might Not Be Helpful – sometimes parents or family members want to contact administrative offices on behalf of their student, to get X or Y done for the student. We encourage you to let your student do all the legwork. Your student won’t learn how to navigate complex situations until he or she has to do it, which builds muscle memory and experience to draw upon for the next time. One day, instead of a chem test and a cold and a silly administrative task to complete, he or she might have a work deadline and a broken air conditioner and a sick child all at once. Having some experience in managing multiple things in college will equip your students to handle the adult challenges.
If you contact the Office of Family Engagement about a student problem and we encourage you to try the Stop, Drop, and Roll method, please know it is not that our office is being uncaring or unhelpful. It’s that we believe your student has the ability to fix the problem on his/her own, or would be building needed self-reliance skills by figuring it out. Developing self-sufficiency, learning to navigate organizations, and determining solutions are more beneficial to your student in the long run than being handed a short term solution from mom or dad or a family member.