Many parents can distinguish the cries and shouts of their young child across a crowded nursery or playground. Perhaps that’s why, miles away and years later, parents know when their nearly-grown child is facing serious challenges at college. Here are some ways you can “kiss the boo-boo” of your college student across the miles without coddling or enabling them to become overly dependent on you.
Help Your College Student Set Priorities
Early in their college career, many students start to feel overwhelmed. Studies, including one by the research experts at Eduventures, have shown that part of this feeling stems from a sense of not having adequate preparation to succeed. One major skill that may be lacking is the ability to set priorities. When your son or daughter complains about being stretched too thin, recommend making two to-do lists. The first list includes assignments and projects that have a deadline or sense of urgency. The second list covers important tasks that have a deadline several months away or a flexible timeline. Having a checklist keeps students organized and ensures they won’t forget to do something. Remind your student to focus on the first checklist, but also to spend some time whittling away the second list.
It’s all about the Small Stuff
Counsel your son or daughter to accomplish small tasks or problems he or she can resolve quickly. This will boost their confidence so they’re better equipped to tackle the bigger projects. Parents can help students deal with tasks that seem overwhelming by helping them identify solutions. For example, remind your young adult that disposing of a parking ticket may be as simple as paying the fine online. Or, explain that getting sponsors for a sorority fundraiser may involve a mere 20 minutes of working the phones to develop one or two solid leads.
Remind Them to be Smart Next Time
When college students cry over bad choices they’ve made, it’s a good time to talk to them about making wiser choices next time. Tell your student that it’s not a failure to make a mistake, but it is problematic to make the same mistakes repeatedly. Being a good listener during phone calls and asking helpful questions about the situation will encourage students to recognize the mistakes themselves. This kind of dialogue and self-discovery is much more helpful than a parent dictating what the child should have done differently. Researchers found in one study that having a positive attitude about your ability to learn from mistakes is a self-fulfilling prophecy: It empowers people to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Extend a Helping Hand
You certainly can’t swoop in and write your son’s 10-page paper for History 101 on the Tea Pot Dome Scandal. However, you can help provide some relief in small ways. Give your child a break from the daily routine by dropping a gift card in the mail to a favorite restaurant or pizza delivery chain. This kind of gesture is especially welcome during exams. A study by the Princeton Review found that when exam time rolls around, up to 85 percent of students report developing higher levels of stress. Offer to help your child set up automatic payments online for things like student loans and car payments. Over the phone, you can walk your student through the process and make sure that everything is correct. This small gesture will relieve stress in the long run by helping your student avoid late fees.
Equip Them to Handle Emergencies
When there is a true emergency involving your child’s health, you may find yourself getting in the car or buying a plane ticket. (Of course, no parent wants to think about those kind of emergencies.) However, not all emergencies require you to make an appearance on campus. When your child has a dire situation that calls for a quick infusion of cash, counsel them to explore their options. Talk to your student about mobile loans and other short-term borrowing options that can put money in their bank account in a matter of hours. By taking loans out themselves and repaying them in a timely manner, students learn to be responsible with money and how to meet their own needs in a crisis. This is the kind of valuable lesson they can only learn outside the classroom.
If All Else Fails…
Bake some cookies, put them in plastic zip bags, tuck the bags into padded envelopes, and drop them in the mail. Comfort food from home will go a long way toward soothing a student who’s stressed. After all, when it’s time to devour the chapters in that monstrous psychology textbook, they’ll seem a bit more digestible with a side of homemade cookies.
Remember that your college student will stumble and fall. Your student may send out that all-too-familiar cry over the phone or pour out the agonizing details of the latest drama in emails. Like any loving parent, you’ll want to solve the problems for your student. However, it’s important to resist the urge to intervene directly except in potentially dangerous circumstances. In most cases, your willingness to listen and offer suggestions like the ones outlined here will help your student develop his or her own ability to work through problems. Ultimately, that is your goal—to help your son or daughter become a healthy, productive adult who can handle stress and the challenges, big and small, that will inevitably arise.