Emotional Support for your College Student
By Eric Nelson, Director of Counseling and Psychological Services
As parents of a college student, you may understandably envy the remarkable experiences your young adults enjoy, such as new relationships, new-found freedom, intellectual conversations, international trips, etc. In addition to these high points, students in this developmental period typically encounter some of their lowest moments from unforeseen failures, the overwhelming nature of uncertainty, complications in relationships, and the distress of managing it all. As they respond to these lows, college students may have difficulty adapting to the surprisingly painful emotions that arise, and they can overreact to the discomfort. Failure on an assignment can yield fear about a future unfulfilled, an overly busy week can bring a hopelessness about whether they’ll make it through, and the highly comparative Instagram feed of social connection can produce problematic feelings of inadequacy and fear of missing out.
Fortunately for our students, navigating the complex environment of young adulthood is far more manageable with caring parents and the broad network of support at Westmont. On campus, students are encouraged to reach out to the many layers of support, including peers around them, the residence life staff in their dorms (RAs and RDs), their professors, staff members they interact with, the Campus Pastor’s Office, and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). As a college, we’re also highly proactive with emotional health resources, providing opportunities to learn about coping with college in our Fit for Life classes, spiritual health in chapel, seminars on anxiety, widespread programming in the residence halls, and supportive relationships with peer coaches, RAs, and spiritual formation coordinators.
Parents offer a critical conduit of support. As you reflect upon how you can help your son or daughter on campus, consider these ideas:
Keep the avenues of communication open and be mindful of this support. Too little support can leave students without direction or input on how to respond to new challenges. Too much support can impede this important stage of development and actually engender less resilience and distress.
Model healthy patterns of resolution when your child calls you with a concern or problem. Instead of repetitively talking with them about their problems, provide empathy and reflective care while also empowering them to take an active role in their concern instead of lingering in sadness. Focus on empowering as opposed to fixing.
Encourage them to seek support from a wide range of resources on campus. Students can become inactive or passive when overwhelmed. Recommend they sign up for a meeting with a peer coach, touch base with an RA, or reach out for counseling.
Be mindful of your own stress or anxiety. Children can pick this up and assume your anxiety themselves.
As a parent, own the difficulty involved in this parenting season. Get support from others and educate yourself on this important parenting transition. Consider these books: “Letting Go” by Coburn and Treegar; “You’re on Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me)” by Savage.