Once again, the holiday season has passed and your son or daughter has returned to UO. Most likely, you feel fortunate that you got to spend some wonderful time together filled with laughter, conversation and family time.
On the other hand, perhaps the past few weeks did not go entirely as you had wished. Perhaps your student appeared more distant, moody, or just not quite him or herself. You may have noticed changes in alcohol use, eating habits, social activity level or physical appearance. Perhaps you tried to inquire about the changes you observed, but your efforts were not well received. Often it’s difficult to know how to best assist your student. You may have wondered how to communicate your concerns and support, while respecting your son/daughter’s need for privacy and autonomy. In the end, you may have kept silent, since you did not want to intrude or strain your relationship.
Depending on what you observed, you may be left wondering whether your student is struggling with depression, relationship difficulties or alcohol/substance use problems. You also may wonder what else you could do and whether there might be more effective ways to reach out to your student.
Here are some suggestions that might be helpful when sharing your concerns. While there is no one right way to engage your student, you might keep the following in mind.
- Before addressing your son/daughter, check how you feel about him/her at this moment. If you are angry, this may not be the optimal time to start a dialogue. To give yourself the best chance to be heard, try to come from a loving, caring, non-judgmental place.
- Before starting your conversation, think about what your goal is. Do you just want to share your worries and offer support? Or are you trying to get your student to engage in a conversation?
- Try to remain non-defensive. By owning your own struggles, you model this for your son or daughter.
- You may want to begin the conversation by asking whether this is a good time to talk and by expressing your care and love. Follow this by stating that you would like to share some observations and concerns. Emphasize that you simply wish to be heard. Perhaps you do not expect an immediate response, since it may take some time for your student to absorb and process the feedback. Then state your observations about you son/daughter’s behavior that is of concern to you. Stick with what you have noticed and why this concerns you. For instance: “When I see you spending all day in front of the computer, I miss being able to talk with you, and I worry how this impacts your other relationships.”
- Do your best to avoid negative labeling, ‘put downs’ or value judgments.
- State your expectations or 'bottom line,’ if you have one. Again, consider how this will be helpful to your student.
- Communicate that you want to be supportive and would like to talk more about these issues when your son or daughter is ready to do so
- Be ready to provide referral sources in case your son/ daughter would like to seek professional help.
If your concerns are serious and you feel stuck about how to proceed, feel free to contact the Counseling & Testing Center for a consultation. (346-3227)
Even if the conversation doesn’t go as you had hoped, that doesn’t mean it should not have taken place. Keep in mind that by expressing your concerns and observations in a loving and non-judgmental manner, you provide a chance for renewed connection and positive change. You are conveying that in spite of the potential silence experienced during Winter break, your student was not invisible and that more than anything, you are there to offer help and support.
Edel Davenport, Ex-Associate Director