Just when you think your college student is settled in, making new friends, and doing well in her classes, she calls you in a panic. Sadness and stress are overwhelming her. She doesn’t know what to do. She is desperate for help. She says nothing is going right. She no longer likes her college. She is questioning her friendships. She did poorly on a recent test. She wants to come home. She wants to give up.
Of course, you will do anything you can to help her. You hear her pain and want to make it go away. You are confident her life would be easier at home and part of you wants her closer, but deep down, you know she can’t give up. She worked too hard to get where she is. You know this is an opportunity for her to develop grit, strengthen her resilience, and connect with her inner-strength.
So how do you help your college student? What is the right way to soothe her nerves and convince her that she can get through this?
Start by listening.
Hold space for her to express all that is troubling her. Try not to make assumptions or offer solutions right away. Allow her words to deepen your understanding of her experiences. Listen with the intention of allowing her to vent, and as she does, know that she is processing her emotions and moving toward relief.
Validate how she feels.
Affirm that it is difficult to wonder about friends, experience a setback in a class, and feel desperately homesick. Acknowledge that things are hard right now and point out that things can change.
Ask her what choices she has.
For young adults, distress is often accompanied by feeling out of control. When you can bring your daughter’s attention to the choices she has and what actions she can take to initiate change, she will feel better. If she identifies giving up as the only choice, ask her: If you weren’t going to give up, what else could you do? If she can’t think of any choices, ask her if you can offer suggestions.
Remind her of past challenges she’s overcome.
When in distress, a young adult’s focus can narrow to her current problems. She needs you to remind her of when she got through difficult times. She will benefit from you recounting the positive outcomes of a situation, which at the time, seemed hopeless. As you do this, highlight the qualities that strengthened and the wisdom she gained. Ask her how she might use those qualities and wisdom to help her through the current challenge.
Ask her what’s good.
Encourage her to find the smallest thing that is going well, even something that is just OK will do. You might suggest: the comfortable bed she sleeps in, getting to class on time, or having the courage to call you and reach out for help. The point is to help extend her perspective beyond what’s wrong.
Make a short-term plan.
Help her identify the actions that will positively impact her mood, outlook, and experiences. Suggest she commits to taking at least one doable action that is likely to spark a positive change. Determine a time frame to allow for the changes to occur before reevaluating the situation.
Many college students feel like giving up is the easiest or only way to resolve a challenging situation. But, there is so much value to leaning into a challenge. It is there where your daughter learns skills, mindsets, and approaches that can help her in the future.
Once she has overcome the challenge, take advantage of the valuable opportunity to remind her that when things get hard, she can figure it out. She can stick with it and find solutions. She can do hard things.