Skip to main content

How Can I Help My Child From A Distance?

Of course, you are still a parent to your almost-adult, and he or she does still need your support and guidance during the college years. As growth and development occurs, relationships and boundaries must necessarily change to accommodate a burgeoning maturity.

Stay in touch. Even though your child is experimenting with independent choices, he or she still needs to know that you're there and are available to talk over both normal events and difficult issues. Make arrangements to email, text or call your child on a regular basis. And, allow space for your child to set the agenda for some of your conversation. Do your best to minimize lecturing and increase your listening. Attempt to help your child think through his or her choices and decisions, rather than telling him or her what to do.

Be realistic about academic achievement and grades. Your student with excellent grades will be competing with other students with equally excellent grades, and not every freshman will make the President's list. Developing or refining the capacity to work independently and consistently, and demonstrating mastery can be more important than grades-as long as the student meets the basic requirements set forth by Eastern and their academic program of study. Again, these are choices that each individual student makes, though it is certainly appropriate to help your child consider her or his long-term goals.

Remember your own difficulty achieving a healthy balance between work and the myriad of other commitments that impinge upon you. For most students, this is their first experience at setting such priorities, and keeping them. A balance between academics, work, social and spiritual commitments, and just plain fun tends to provide a good mix for both emotional and physical well-being. Finding the right balance is often difficult for students, although their values and goals should provide the foundation here.

Adjustment problems are a common and expected experience for most students, particularly freshmen. And, parents are usually the first to notice changes in their student's behavior, attitudes, or emotional stability that might indicate a problem. Talk with your student about your concerns. Let your student know that such adjustment problems are common and that help is available on campus. Your son or daughter had many strengths when they lived at home, and those qualities remain with them at college. As a parent, you can remind your student of all the challenges they have already successfully faced. Encourage your student to trust in their own abilities and suggest seeking additional help when it is needed.

Even the happiest student may occasionally feel homesick, or doubt oneself. This questioning, at times, may seem to apply to every choice a student makes. Understanding what is truly happening will involve patience and careful listening on your part. Most often, the true purpose of a phone call is to vent frustration and fears, so the student feels heard and understood. Once this is accomplished, students usually feel relieved and ready to move forward. Although, for parents, a distressed phone call is often only the beginning of a long night of worry, only to find out during the next day's check-in that, from the student's point of view, everything is fine.

Your son or daughter will be faced with a myriad of new challenges and new possibilities throughout their college career, and he or she will use existing strengths and build on these in facing these challenges. Encouragement, guidance, and careful listening are often what's needed most. And, learning about your son or daughter as an adult may be one of the unexpected rewards of parenting during the college years. Please note, however, that prolonged behavioral changes, such as loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, withdrawal from social activities, or avoidance of classes or other responsibilities might be signals that your student is experiencing more than an adjustment problem-and that a referral to CAPS, and/or consultation with one of our professionals, may be indicated (see below for "warning signs," as well as how to assist "the reluctant student").

Counseling and Psychological Services is available to students, as well as to parents for consultation. Students do not need to reach a point of crisis to seek and benefit from counseling. CAPS also offers several groups that may be of interest to your student (e.g., Building Connections).

Warning Signs—

In order to facilitate the early identification of difficulties, below are some possible warning signs that suggest a student may be in need of assistance.

  • Change in appearance (e.g., poor hygiene; significant weight gain/loss)
  • A drop in GPA or academic performance (especially for high achievers)
  • Increased irritability or agitation
  • Consistently inappropriate, illogical, or unrelated questions
  • Distracted or preoccupied thought processes
  • Withdrawal from social interactions with peers, family, and significant others; frequent class absences, and expressions of loneliness
  • Fearful responses, such as avoidance or apprehension about being alone
  • Occurrence of a recent loss or other crisis (e.g., relationship breakup, death of a friend or family member, academic failure, physical illness, rape/sexual assault)
  • Expressions of hopelessness (statements such as "there's no use trying" or "what's the point?")
  • Indirect statements or written essays about death or suicide ("I want to just disappear," "there's no way out," or "I can't go on") as well as more direct suicidal statements ("I've had thoughts about hurting myself")

The Reluctant Student—

As entering into counseling is a personal choice, it is difficult to stand by and see someone suffering but unwilling to seek help. This is particularly true for parents. Nevertheless, below are some things you can try to assist a student who is ambivalent about seeking professional counseling services.

  • Try to normalize the process of pursuing counseling. This can be especially helpful for students whose cultural backgrounds may promote differing views of mental health care. If you have sought counseling in the past, this can be an effective way to normalize the use of such services.
  • Let your student know that no problem is too big or too small for treatment.
  • Reassure your student that seeking counseling does not mean they are "crazy"; instead, that it is a sign of maturity and strength to seek help when it is needed.
  • Let your student know that they can speak with a counselor once, perhaps through walk-ins, without making a commitment to ongoing therapy.
  • Remind your son or daughter that information shared during counseling sessions is kept strictly confidential and is not disclosed to anyone-including parents, faculty, or other college personnel without the student's written permission.
  • Acknowledge, validate, and discuss your student's real fears and concerns about seeking help. Some students may feel that counseling is an admission of weakness or failure; we tell students that it takes considerable courage and integrity to face oneself, acknowledge one's limitations, and admit the desire for change and need for assistance in this endeavor.
  • Suggest that your student visit our web site in order to become familiar with the services we offer prior to seeking treatment. He or she may be willing to complete an anonymous screening for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or substance use through the online mental health screening program.
  • Finally, feel free to consult with us about your son or daughter.

Emergency Information—

Parents and concerned others may consult with CAPS staff if they believe a student is in distress and they are uncertain how to help. Calling during walk-in times (1:00 to 4:00, Monday through Friday) typically assures that you will be able to speak with a staff member within a short time.

If you are concerned that your son or daughter might harm himself or herself, or someone else, seek help immediately. During business hours, you can contact Counseling and Psychological Services for assistance (509-359-2366). After hours, please contact Spokane Mental Health (509-838-4651) or the Regional Crisis Line (877-266-1818). The Regional Behavioral Health Crisis Line is a 24-hour hotline serving several counties in Eastern Washington.

For immediate emergent care, call 911.




© 2019 Eastern Washington University
EWU expands opportunities for personal transformation through excellence in learning.