The end of the semester is almost here and your college student may be feeling stressed. You wish you could help. Or perhaps it’s nearing the end of the semester and your college student is just a bit too relaxed about the urgency of the work that still needs to be done. You wish you could light a little fire under him.
In either of these cases, as a college parent, you may wonder what you can do to help your student cope with all that the end of a semester involves. The truth is that you are limited in what you can do to help – but that doesn’t mean that you can’t help in several important ways.
Once again – brush up those listening skills
There are many important points in our students’ lives when our listening skills may be the most important tool that we have in our toolkit. The end of the semester may be one of them. You may hear more from your student at this point, especially if she is feeling stressed. Then again, you may not hear as much from your student – either because she is too busy to talk or write or because she is stressed and doesn’t want or know how to share those feelings.
Whether you hear from your student a lot or a little, whenever you do connect, make sure you are listening carefully to what she has to say – including listening between the lines. Your student may be asking for advice about something, or she may just need to share, to vent, or to sense that you empathize with what she is going through right now. Listen carefully, allow yourself to be a sounding board, and respond thoughtfully but sparingly. Guide your student to figure out what she needs to do – or not do. Share your counsel, but respect (or at least accept) your student’s choices.
Like listening, patience is not a new skill, but one that may be especially helpful at this time of the semester. Be patient if you don’t hear from your student as much as you’d like. Be patient if your student is temperamental or gets upset or angry more quickly than usual.
Guide your student to action
One of the things that may happen if your student is feeling overwhelmed or stressed is that he feels as though he doesn’t know what to do or where to start. Help your student find a starting place to complete his work or prepare for his exams. Suggest that he make a list, prioritize items, and then choose just one thing to begin. Just getting started may be all that he needs to do to begin to feel in control again.
This is an important time to encourage your student to take advantage of all of the support and/or services available at her school. If she is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, she may want to visit the school Counseling Center. College mental health counselors are trained to deal with the issues that many students experience at this time of the year. Some campuses schedule stress-relieving activities at this time to bring students together and help them cope. Several campuses even bring in therapy dogs to spend some time with students. Encourage your student to investigate what might be happening on her campus and to take advantage of the opportunities.
Encourage your student to talk to his professors about any work he still needs to do. It’s not too late for dialogue. Suggest that your student take advantage of tutoring services – either professional or peer tutoring – or a writing or math or speaking center. There is help available, but students need to reach for it.
Be the voice of reason
Don’t dismiss whatever your student is feeling, but do be the voice of reason if your student feels that everything is going wrong or that she will never be able to do what she needs to do. It is possible that she may not be able to do everything, but she can probably do a lot that will make a difference, and you may need to help her realize that. Reassure her. Suggest that she find some balance in her activities and also that she work at taking care of herself by getting sleep and exercise and eating well.
It may be time for that half-time “locker room” talk. Give your student a boost and let him know that he can do it. The difficult time will not last forever. He needs to stick with it, buckle down and get it done, bring all of his resources and focus to the tasks at hand.
This is not the best time for any “big” conversations or changes for your student. If you are concerned about anything or there are any important events happening at home, wait if you can to bring them up with your student. You will have time for meaningful conversations over break, but right now your student needs to focus on school and what he needs to accomplish.
This is the perfect time for a special care package from home and/or a few cards or notes sent to your student’s mailbox. E-mails and e-cards are fine, too, but something in the mailbox – or a note to pick up a package can brighten any student’s day.
The end-of-semester push is a difficult time for everyone. As a college parent, you can help your student manage himself successfully.