This is the third part in a three part series about acting as a coach to your college student. . In our first post we considered the shift in our role as our student heads off to college. In the second post, we heard some advice from some of the world’s outstanding coaches, and considered how it applies to college parenting. In this post, we consider some specific tips for coaching your student through the college years.
If you’ve read the first two posts in this series, you may be ready by now to embrace your role as a coach to your college student. Good for you. But you may wonder just how you will do that. How do you coach from afar? What do you need to do to coach him on to success?
We’d like to offer five coaching suggestions for parents of college students.
Remind your child that he should not expect you to deal with his issues.
When problems, or informational questions, arise, encourage your college student to deal with them rather than turn to you to deal with them. This is part of the growing independence that your child is practicing throughout her college career. Rather than picking up the phone to call – the teacher, the advisor, the registrar, the housing office, the Dean – encourage your child to talk to the appropriate person. In some instances, there may be a time when you need to step in and speak to someone on campus, but it is often much later than you think. Step in only after your son or daughter has exhausted all other options.
One important coaching technique here will be to help your student explore ways to deal with her problem. Help her think through who she may need to talk to, how she might approach the problem, what information she needs to obtain, what questions she might ask, what outcome she is seeking. There are many ways that she needs you to be involved, but that involvement is with her rather than directly with the college.
Encourage your child to do something.
You can be an important source of reminders to your child that he may need to take action about an issue. Help him consider the consequences of not doing anything about whatever issue he is facing. Help him think about options. Remind him of impending deadlines. Nudge him. Help him think about the advantages of being pro-active about an issue. Sometimes an issue may seem overwhelming, or the person with whom he needs to speak may seem intimidating. Remind your student that taking action of some kind is empowering.
Although the coach may not actually play the game, he definitely needs to know the rules of the game. As your student’s coach, it is helpful if you are knowledgeable about some of the school’s policies, requirements, deadlines, administrative structure. This will be helpful as you give your student guidance about when something should be done, who she should see or contact, or where to go to get an answer. This doesn’t mean that you need to memorize the college catalog. Sometimes you may just need to point your student to the place to find the information she needs. “There’s an academic calendar on the website, you might want to check it for the deadline for registering for classes, I think it’s coming up soon.” Remember that you are trying to help your student to be independent. If she doesn’t follow through, she may need to live with the consequences. That may be one of her most valuable lessons.
You will, no doubt, have many opportunities to give suggestions to your student about something he should, or shouldn’t, do at college. You will have opportunities to give guidance to your student about many things. Make sure that she understands that your suggestions are just that, suggestions. She may welcome and accept your advice – or she may choose to ignore it. Give her that option. She may be much more willing to listen to what you have to tell her if you remind her that it is her choice about what to do with the information. You may be surprised how receptive she becomes when she knows that you will understand if she chooses another option. (And then you must understand if she chooses another option!)
Don’t be discouraged.
You’ve given suggestions. You’ve conveyed important information. You’ve encouraged and nudged. Don’t be discouraged if you get a negative response – or no response – to your suggestions. Things may not “take” right away. Keep the lines of communication open. Exercise your sensitivity about when enough may be enough for the moment and it is time to back off, but keep the communication flowing. Things may click later, or ideas may be internalized without you – or your student – realizing. You may be surprised some day when you hear your student saying something to someone else that you said to him. He may or may not even remember where he got the idea, but it’s there.
Independence, and responsibility, and maturity, don’t happen overnight. Your student will change – and grow – gradually, one small step at a time. Remember that he will change a little bit at a time. Remind him that he will become more and more capable and independent as he builds his skills. Patience is important both for you and your student. Obviously, you may need to do more coaching during his first year than his last year. By his sophomore or junior years you may already be amazed at this student and wonder when the change happened. If you’ve helped your student work on his skills gradually, he’ll be ready for the big game when it comes!
By reminding yourself and your student that you have an important role as a coach, by understanding what that role is, by encouraging your student to take action and responsibility, by stepping back and giving guidance and then being patient, you can coach your student through a successful college career.