Launching a child in college is often a frightening situation, for parents as well as the student. Faced with the sudden change in family dynamics, and a sense of “how will my child ever survive without me?” or “how will I ever survive without my child?”, parents worry about their child’s health, well-being, academic work, friendship, and a variety of other concerns.
We have good news for you… This is all very normal! It may be helpful to know that other parents deal with these same issues.
This Parents’ Guide has been created just for you. We hope it will answer some of your questions and help you to feel more confident about your child being away.
How can I best help my child? I’m a LONG way from him/her.
KEEP IN TOUCH. Your child needs to know that you care about and support him/her and the decisions he/she is making in an effort to become independent. Letters, phone calls, email… students LOVE to get mail (even commuters!)
BE INTERESTED. Maintain an honest interest in your child’s activities in college, including friendships, class work, and free time… but remember… they need to be able to grow UP as well as AWAY during this time. Your child is more likely to discuss these issues if your first question isn’t where he/she was last night when you called!
- BE INFORMED. Don’t immediately panic if you detect changes in your child that you don’t understand or that cause you concern. Ask to talk about it. If he/she is resistant, encourage him/her to seek out a professor or another adult to talk things over with, perhaps their Resident Director or Assistant (RD or ARD).
- If you have suggested this and still feel that something may be wrong, consider contacting the Director or Resident Assistant of your child’s residence hall. They are in the best position to interact with students on a daily basis, and are trained to refer a student for counseling, if appropriate.
- The Counseling Center has qualified professional counselors, experienced in helping college students, available to meet as needed to help your child through the difficulty he/she is facing.
Can I call to talk to my child’s counselor?
- Our services are personalized, confidential, and free for students. We will not discuss the student’s concerns with anyone outside the Counseling Center without the written permission of the student.
- This means that we can not talk with parents about specific students unless the student wishes us to do so. Although hard for some parents to accept, the student counseling session is covered by confidentiality policy. We may not even be able to confirm that your child is attending counseling.
- The best way to find out exactly how your child is doing, is to ASK THEM DIRECTLY, and be patient and loving in listening and responding.
What if the problem isn’t necessarily psychological in nature?
- What if my child is ill, or is failing, and just doesn’t want to tell me for fear I’ll worry or become upset? Students who struggle in one area of development, often have difficulties in other areas as well. With the student’s permission, our office works collaboratively with Student Health, Academic Support, and other college and community resources to help provide the appropriate support needed at the time. This support may also include referral to higher or more appropriate levels of care.
What if my child develops more serious mental health concern, like depression?
- Depressive Symptoms include frequent crying or irritability, persistent sad mood, skipping classes; dropping grades/turning work in late; social isolation/withdrawing; changes in sleep patterns; apparent lack of motivation/energy. While any of these symptoms alone are quite normal, several of them over a month or so may indicate the onset of depressive illness. This list is not exhaustive, but indicative of general patterns.
- If you notice these symptoms, you can encourage your child to stop in the Counseling Center as soon as possible to discuss the matter with one of the professional counselors.
- In addition to the counselors, the Center has a consulting psychiatrist on staff. The psychiatrist is available one day each month to see students who may need medication administration and monitoring, in conjunction with ongoing counseling. The college physician is also available to assist with these matters.
- Faculty are also briefed on intervention and introductory counseling procedures, to make the student’s particular situation more manageable until a health professional can assess the situation and determine the best course of action.
- In the rare event that a student does develop a serious mental or emotional crisis, Emergency Services are available through the Counseling Center or the Student Health Service. This can include transportation to an acute care facility if needed.
Why do students seek counseling?
- Students typically seek counseling for several reasons including: high stress levels; feeling lonely, depressed or sad; lack of concentration; social discomfort; parental issues; poor eating habits and eating disorders; difficulty adjusting to surroundings; relationship problems, and worries about a variety of other issues.
- Often, students just need a place to safely vent frustrations, talk over concerns, and seek guidance for their continued well-being and emotional growth.
- There is no longer a stigma about an individual who seeks “counseling” for personal or developmental issues. In fact, one in six students at Houghton College seek counseling.
How do students receive services?
- We are a voluntary service, so we normally do not “go out and get students” who may need counseling. Students are encouraged to visit the counseling center to complete a brief intake form on which they can list their concerns and write in their schedule. In most non-emergency cases, we can fit students into the schedule within one to five days.
What other resources are available?
- The Counseling Center’s web page includes links to a wide variety of self-help and referral resources. Literally thousands of “virtual pamphlets” and other resources are available on the Counseling Center web page. Here, students can find information and links to numerous sites related to depression, nutrition, body image and other pertinent topics for self-help or to help with classroom preparation.
Parents: Take care of yourself, too!
- Help your son or daughter by keeping your own perspective clear. You should maintain your own support systems, allow yourself to feel the changing emotions that are likely to occur when a child leaves home to attend college, but continue or develop new interests and hobbies to maintain your own sense of well being. Your child needs to see you continue to live your life as fully as possible.
- Launching your child successfully will require a lot of work, preparation, and finally a letting go. With this comes a need to trust that you have given your child the tools he or she will need to face life’s challenges.
We hope that the topics we have covered here will help to ease some of your concerns. Remember, we are here to make your child’s stay at Houghton as successful as possible.