“ You and your friends should just talk to the Dean. These lecturers need to pull up their socks! We are paying fees. ”
“Appa I am going out with my friends.”
“Why do you make these night plans? It’s so unsafe. Please be careful. Who are these friends? How will you come back?”
“Ma, I am feeling so homesick. I don’t want to stay in the hostel. I don’t like my roommate.”
“Oh no.. want to ask for a change in roommate. I can send a mail to the warden.” (sometimes parent starts crying)
“I am finding the course so difficult. I think I am going to fail.”
“ You need to work harder. It can’t be so difficult. Ask your friends for notes.”
Do these conversations sound familiar?
I am sure they do! When our children reach college and have struggles, we feel concerned, worried and sometimes frightened, especially if they are studying far away from us. They call and complain about things, and when we see them unhappy we feel helpless. As parents, we immediately want to fix things, make it better for our children. Or, on the other hand, we may think, they are older now, they need to learn to deal with these situations on their own. We tell them they have to be tough.
I recently dropped my daughter off at a university far away from home. When our children go to college we are very often told. “ Let go. Don’t be too involved. They will go through rough times. They have to learn to cope.” In contrast, we got some valuable advice at the orientation. The college emphasised that as parents we will always play a crucial role in our children’s lives. What we need to figure out is the best way to support them and remain connected to them. This is true whether they are living with us or in a hostel.
How can parents support a college-going child?
The College Dean said that the best support we can give our children is to just — listen, listen and…. listen! Acknowledge their feelings and struggles. Don’t offer solutions immediately. Figure out what is really critical and needs your involvement. This understanding and balance is the hardest thing for parents to do! To know how to help our children in handling their problems and finding solutions on their own. In wanting to rescue them, we end up having the kind of conversations described at the beginning of this article. But what happens when we do this?
College students say this:
My parents get unnecessarily stressed out about everything. I’d rather talk to my friends.
They just don’t understand. I share one small thing and they make a big deal about it.
Why can’t they just listen without giving advice?
I feel it’s better they don’t know. They get so worried about everything!
They don’t know how things work at college. They should trust me to handle the situation.
All I wanted was for them to understand what I am going through without trying to jump in to fix it.
What happens when parents listen with empathy?
When parents are calm and not overanxious, when we just listen, we win our child’s confidence, they feel comfortable to talk to us. Then we have the opportunity of really learning how they are, and what is going on with them. Being attuned to them also helps us to know when we need to step in. Of course, parents should get involved and take action if they feel their child is at risk.
If a situation is serious, if we sense that the academic or social pressure is too much for the child, they seem overly withdrawn, or if ragging is taking place, if they are having thoughts of suicide, or are doing self- harm, then we should contact college authorities.
The challenge is to know when to just listen and empathise, and when to give advice or take action. I was told by a friend that when your child goes to college, you have to figure out “how not to get fired as a parent!” I tried to imagine what kind of conversation I would have to keep the lines of communication open and stay connected.
“Ma, I don’t like it here. The food is bad and I don’t like my roommate.”
Oh, that must be hard. How are you managing?
“I am definitely going to fail this course.”
You’re sounding very worried and scared! Tough course is it?
“I am going out tonight.”
Have fun..Send me a text as soon as you are back. I tend to worry about your safety.
Wow…. These kinds of conversations require a huge shift in me. I guess what they need most is to feel heard, understood and trusted to manage their problems. Now, I hope I can learn and practice to respond/be this way, and keep my job as a parent.
Author: Kesang Menezes is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up www.parentingmatters.in