Tread Lightly, But Be Present: Supporting Your Student Through the Stressful End of the Semester

As the end of the semester nears, many college students feel their stress levels rise. Students realize how much work they still have left to do, and they realize that their time-management skills may not have served them well. They are overwhelmed, tired, possibly sick, and definitely nervous about the outcome.

As you begin to sense your student’s stress, your parental instincts kick in and you want to do everything you can to help. It’s a tricky time. It is important that you let your student know that you’re there for them, you’re ready to listen and offer an encouraging word, but your student needs to find ways of coping on their own. It’s part of the growth of independence and being a college student.

College parenting can be difficult. As parent, you need to tread lightly. It is difficult to step back and watch your student struggle, but sometimes all you can do is offer those encouraging words and a listening ear.

What causes student stress and what does it look like?

The stress that students feel at the end of the semester is very real and can be overwhelming. Students worry about deadlines, final papers, projects, presentations, and final exams. There seems to be so much to do — even for students who thought they were on top of things as the semester progressed.

Different people react to stress differently, of course. Students are no different.  Some students will thrive on the stress and adrenaline of the end of the term, while other students may feel overwhelmed and begin to crumble. One thing you can do is to help your student recognize the signs of stress so they can address it as soon as possible. Your student may say they are feeling overwhelmed, but ask whether they are feeling too overwhelmed to be able to do anything. Helping your student analyze the degree of stress is a good beginning.

Can you help from a distance?

If you sense that your college student may be experiencing a stress meltdown, you feel helpless. You can’t take the exam, give the speech, or say goodbye to friends. However, as a parent, coaching from the sidelines, you can help your student at this difficult time.

  • Give your student some space. It may seem counter-intuitive and it’s not an easy thing to do. Just when your student seems to need help the most, you need to step back. But your student may need some time and/or space. Try to listen carefully to the messages your student sends and decide when it’s best to weigh in and when it’s best to let things go.
  • Listen when your student needs to vent. Sometimes, students just need to unload some of their stress or feelings and they don’t really need you to do anything. Once your student has unloaded their feelings, they may be ready to move on. Remember that listening is important. You are helping just by being there.
  • Help your student realize that stress is not all bad. A certain amount of stress and challenge keeps us sharp and focused. Problems arise when we begin to feel out of control. Help your student see stress as natural at this time of the semester. It is not the enemy.
  • Remind your student that they are not alone. Most students feel pressure at this time in the semester. Even those students who appear to have everything under control are probably feeling challenged. Faculty members, too, are probably feeling some level of end-of-semester stress. All of those papers, presentations and exams need to be graded! It may help your student to realize that everyone is probably feeling just the same way they are.
  • Recommend that your student make a list of every single thing that they need to do and then prioritize the list. It may be a daunting task, but it will help your student face what is ahead. Prioritizing the list helps your student create an action plan to tackle things one item at a time. Sometimes beginning is the hardest step.
  • Suggest that your student create a schedule for each day of the last few weeks of the semester. When will they be in class? What other obligations do they have? When will they study and do their work? How much time is left for socializing?
  • Remind your student not to ignore their health. Sleep is one of the most important, and most ignored, ingredients of good health and clear thinking. Remind your student to make sure to eat well and make the time to sleep.
  • Encourage your student to find out what the college has to offer. Are there course review sessions? Extra tutoring? Does the counseling center offer extra sessions? Are there special stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, or even a session with visiting puppies? Encourage your student not to try to do everything alone, and to reach out to those who offer support.
  • Remind your student that the semester will end. The final few weeks are just that — a few weeks. College life will not always be this hectic. This is the final sprint to the finish line.

Be patient with your student at this challenging time of the semester. Know that you will feel the tension of feeling helpless, but that the support you provide does make a difference.

Related articles:

Helping Your College Student Cope with Stress

Sending Your Student the Best College Care Package Ever 

It’s Final Exam Time! What’s a College Parent to Do?

How Can Parents Help College Students as the Semester Ends?

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