The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated what can already be a stressful situation for teens heading off to college for the first time. The typical experience is anything but, thanks to restrictive yet necessary safety precautions. ParentingNH reached out to Charlotte-Ane Hassett, LCMHC, Director of Child & Family Services, Lakes Region Mental Health Center (lrmhc.org) to learn more about coping strategies and how to best help our kids navigate this potentially challenging experience.
How can I help my child if he/she is away at college and struggling emotionally?
Hassett: “Stay in touch via multiple sources: phone, email, snail-mail and care packages. Listen carefully, but avoid offering too much advice:
• Normalize the situation — reinforce that this is a difficult transition for many college students.
• Highlight strengths and specific ways the student has survived difficult junctures in the past.
• Know what supports are available on campus or in the community, and have contact information in case your student wants to reach out.
• Ask about sleep, hygiene, eating and exercise habits and help make a plan to create a routine for a healthy foundation.
• Check to ensure they are taking medications, if prescribed.
• Find out if your student is actively networking with others. Do they have friends or peers in a similar situation they can talk to?
• Address overall organization strategies — do they have a plan for handling schoolwork and other life demands (part-time job, clubs, administrative deadlines)? Value prioritizing and list-making, etc.
• Downplay problems at home or simply highlight some positive aspects or outcomes. Try not to burden the student, but don’t completely shelter them, either. Underscore the fact that these are not their problem to solve.
• Ensure that the student sets aside time for R&R, reminding them to do things that feed them emotionally.
• Be aware that sometimes it’s ‘the little stuff’ that helps students the most — helping them figure out how to get change for the laundromat, buy second-hand books, find a new hair stylist, get car repairs, etc. Many aspects of college life are new to students who have not had full responsibility for themselves and their own care before.
• When anxious feelings arise, avoid spiraling down with the student. Don’t deny those feelings are real, but try to find positive aspects and cultivate strength within your student.
• Trust your gut — if you think something is really wrong, elicit support right away.
• Watch for signs of being overwhelmed or hopeless — don’t be afraid to question suicidal thoughts, impulses, plans, intent, means, etc.
• Elicit help from other family members — ask cousins to text, a favorite uncle to call, or close friends to check in.”