Before your college student headed off to school, you may have had some good conversations about both their expectations and your expectations, and about both of your hopes — for grades, for money management, for behavior, or for other things important to both of you. At the midpoint in the semester or year, or just a little past that point, both you and your student may be reevaluating how things are going. Your student has settled in, more or less, has made some friends, has developed habits of behavior, and has likely received some midterm or first semester grades or indications of academic progress.
This is a good time to revisit some of your earlier conversations about hopes, dreams, and expectations. Your college student has weathered tremendous transitions during the past few weeks. They have had to adjust academically and socially, and had to create a their place in this new world. You may have had lots of communication with your student, and you may know exactly how things are going, or you may be wondering how the adjustment process has gone. This is a good time to check in again with your student.
If your student has made the transition to college life well, if their grades are good, they have made friends, are managing expenses and making wise choices and managing their time, be sure to congratulate them. Let your student know that you recognize that this is a big accomplishment and that you are proud of them.
However, if things are not going as well for your student, then this may be a particularly difficult time for both of you. Whatever your student’s difficulty may be, the midpoint in the semester is often the moment when reality begins to set in. The newness of the semester has worn off, the urgency of the remainder of the semester strikes, and Thanksgiving vacation (or spring break), when students will need to face their families looms. Students are faced with the consequences of choices they have made and one of their biggest concerns may be ”How will I tell my parents?”
Whether your student is having difficulties with grades, money, poor choices around drinking or drugs, behavior or general conduct issues, you want your student to feel that they can talk to you and let you know what is on their mind, and what is happening at college. As you talk with your student in the next few weeks, they will be listening carefully between the lines to hear your attitude and feelings. Your student may be offering some subtle warnings that they are having some issues and you will also want to be tuned in to what is suggested but not necessarily overtly said.
This is a good time to remember all that you know about good listening skills. Take time to let your student vent. Listen carefully to any information that they may offer, and listen between the lines. At this point in the semester, one of the best things that you may be able to do for your student is to keep the channels of communication open. If your student is having difficulty, the last thing that they want to hear at this point is a lecture. Yes, you may want to wring your student’s neck, but that is not what they need right now.
However, this doesn’t mean that you need to happily accept poor grades, poor choices, or poor behavior. Let your student know how you feel, but let them know that you know that they must make their own choices and you will be there for them. Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful:
- Don’t grill your student. Ask for information about how things are going, but know that they may be reluctant to share some things. Work at keeping dialogue going, but don’t interrogate.
- Think about your big goals for your student. Yes, you want them to complete college and get a good job, but you also want them to mature into a caring, responsible adult. Keep the bigger picture in mind.
- Remember that first semester grades for many students are often lower than they were used to receiving in high school. This is a different level of work. Don’t hold your student to unrealistic standards. Help your student understand realistic standards as well.
- If your student is doing poorly in one class, but everything else is going well, don’t worry. Suggest that they talk to the instructor or their advisor, but again, look at the bigger picture.
- Ask your student why they think they are having difficulty. Being able to identify the cause of the problem isn’t always easy, but it is essential.
- Let your student know honestly how you feel. If you are disappointed, it is fair to tell them that. If you are worried, let them know. Don’t expect your student to share with you if you aren’t honest with them.
- Ask what they think they can do differently now. Wishing things better without action won’t work.
- Ask whether they want to and are ready to make changes. If your student isn’t ready, you may need a different conversation about whether college is the right choice at this time.
- Ask what you can do to help.
- Remind your student that you’ll be there to listen — no matter what.
Hopefully, your student has adjusted to college well. However, many students do face difficult realities a few weeks into the semester. They may already be worrying about how they will have a conversation with you about grades, money, housing, or other issues. One of the most important things that you can do now is to continue to keep channels of communication open, continue to be honest with your student about your feelings and expectations, but offer your support. Your student is working at increasing their independence and responsibility for their actions. Your attitude or support will give your student the foundation they need to move forward.