How can I help my student?
Generally, parents are more involved in the lives of their children than was the case in earlier generations. Several factors have been suggested to explain this:
Changes in child rearing practices: Parents have been making social, recreational, educational and other arrangements for their children since birth. Parents are accustomed to "arranging" and their children are accustomed to "being arranged."
Communication is more frequent, and perhaps of different content: e-communication is 24/7, cheap, and available. This can also result in looser boundaries among people.
The cost of university is a major investment: If parents are contributing to the education costs, they may have a feeling of responsibility in ensuring their student graduates.
The QUESTION becomes: "How can parents balance established family habits and structures with the needs of their student to separate from family and develop into an autonomous, but connected, adult?"
The ANSWER may be: "This is difficult, but occurs when parents having faith in their child's ability to learn and adapt, and also allow him/her opportunities to make decisions and manage the outcomes for himslef/herself."
Information on student development over the years at university may give you added insight into the normal growth of youth and emerging adults.
- Anticipate the basic life skills needed, and teach your student how to do laundry, minor sewing repairs, cook a half-dozen quick and nutritious meals, do basic money record keeping, and create a monthly budget.
- Talk about financial arrangements, expectations, and limitations to reduce future misunderstandings. Such discussions sometimes raise awareness of the subtle pressure you may exert on your student to uphold his/her "end of the bargain", and give you the opportunity to think about whether that is helpful or not.
- Discuss how transitions are both exciting and stressful. Some discomfort is normal and cannot be avoided. It usually helps to get involved in campus activities and find even one person to have meals with. Many people adjust to significant changes in their life within 3 - 6 months, although some take longer.
- Assess how much support is necessary-and in what areas-and provide what is needed. This isn't the same as leaving your student to "sink or swim", but rather this approach of "only what is needed" enables your student to gain confidence in his/her abilities and learn from mistakes. He/she will know that you are there in the background.
- If your student experiences challenges due to a health condition or disability, encourage him/her to register with Health Services or Disability Services to arrange for a smooth transfer of care.
- Stay connected, but leave enough space for your student to develop a support system of his/her own on campus. E-mail, send a care parcel, phone at arranged times, consider a weekend visit, perhaps, to see the beautiful small city of Kingston...his/her new home away from home.
- If your student is phoning or texting so much that he/she is not establishing a social support group on campus, encourage less frequent or shorter contacts. Reinforce a positive attitude of "you can do it!"
- Encourage involvement on campus or in the Kingston community. Studying all the time is neither academically efficient nor socially beneficial.
- Asking general questions (How is it going with your courses?) rather than probing questions (Did you hand in your lab report on time?) lets your student know you are interested, and that you trust he/she will manage themselves responsibly. General, open questions enable your student to share information as he/she wishes, while "yes/no" questions often limit conversation.
- If your student asks for advice, first ask for his/her opinion on how he/she would solve the problem. You will learn what's on his/her mind, how he/she thinks, and what is important to him/her, and your student will exercise independent problem-solving skills and confidence. He/she will have the opportunity to learn from possible mistakes and assume responsibility for his/her decisions. This leads to increased competence.
- Students who live at home may struggle to feel part of the Queen's community. Family rules may need to be negotiated to reflect the student's need to develop autonomy and to meet academic and personal schedules. There may be evening classes, long group meetings, and sports teams to accommodate. Parents may find it helpful to speak with family friends or others who have experienced similar transitions.
- The shift from "frosh in Orientation Week" to "student in first year" happens overnight on the calendar, but slowly in the minds of most students. The first academic hurdle is for students to understand how quickly the learning starts, and the necessity of attending class, doing readings or lab preparation, and keeping up with assignments. School is a job.
- Students who distribute their learning over several weeks experience better learning and less stressful studying than those who don't engage until the mid-terms or finals. Setting regular homework times (e.g. one hour of homework for one hour of lecture time), creating summaries, and referring to the course outline for the overall goals or learning objectives of the course are all very good habits.
- The mid-term exams in October-November may be a real challenge for many students, regardless of their performance on exams in high school. Students are expected to be able to memorize (often the key skill in writing high school exams), but seeing the "big picture" and understanding concepts in order to apply information or solve problems is what is required to get high grades (i.e. over 75%), even on multiple choice exams. The assimilation of material takes time, and cramming for mid-terms is rarely sufficient.
- If your student is feeling overwhelmed after mid-terms, remind him/her that there is still have time to do well on the final exams. Encourage your student to attend workshops offered by the Queen's Learning Commons or, depending on their needs, use a tutoring service (available through each major faculty) to boost his/her skills and confidence.
- Sports, exercise schedules, clubs, hobbies, social action groups, volunteer opportunities abound, and add vitality, a chance to relax, and make positive social connections. There are only 168 hours in a week, so if your student is feeling stretched, encourage him/her to calculate how many hours he/she spends in various activities, including sleeping, eating, attending class, and doing homework... About 10 hours a week in extra-curricular activities is something many students can handle. Good self-management skills may enable some to do more, such as play varsity sports.
- To work or not to work? Some students depend on a part-time job to enable them to attend university. This is an added challenge to a full-time academic schedule. Clear priorities, effective time management and good health routines are essential. Other students are accustomed to working through school and enjoy the extra money and independence. About 10 hours a week is manageable for many students, but working 15-20 hours while studying full-time usually has negative academic consequences.
- If homesickness is making it difficult for your student to make a positive connection with Queen's, offer encouragement and focus on what is going well. You may be most likely to hear from him/her when they are upset. Try to call when he/she is active and engaged rather then feeling vulnerable (e.g. not just before bed).
- Sharing a room with anyone, let alone a stranger, is a new experience for many students. Conversations with the senior students who live in residence, called Dons, can help students learn to give way on small things, express one's concern on troublesome issues, and seek cooperation on solving key issues. For those living off-campus, regular house meetings are a positive way of identifying issues and working out solutions. Non-blaming statements such as "I think (this is happening), I feel (in response to the situation), I wish (a suggested solution)" often keep communication lines open between room-mates.
- Peer pressure is a challenge at any age, but separation from usual anchors and boundaries creates added pressure and confusion for many students. Encouraging your student to seek friends who share similar values around alcohol, drugs, sexual behaviour, gambling, and academic goals may help your student consider/reconsider the choices he/she is making.
- As your student explores new ideas and ways of doing things, the possibility of conflict between you arises. Arguing may cause him/her to be very selective in what he/she shares with you, or it may help both of you to clarify your values and opinions. In any case, you and your student may have different views. To reduce frustration, consider saying "I'll need to think more about this - let's talk another time".
- If your student lives away, when he/she returns home he/she may wish to spend time friends as well as with you. Both you and your student are defining new relationships within the family as he/she shifts focus from family to peers. This is another balancing act between established family patterns and the independence of the young adult. Try to make the most of your special time together, rather than feeling disappointed or neglected.
If your student seems consistently distressed and you become worried about his/her health or well-being, express your concern by sharing with him/her what you have noted in terms of behaviour or conversation. Sometimes a few good nights of sleep, some exercise and relaxation will be enough to help your student feel "back on track". If appropriate, encourage him/her to make an appointment with a Don in residence or with Counselling Services (613-533-2506). Please remember that the Queen's policy on confidentiality prevents information from being shared with anyone without the specific consent of the student.
Academic concerns are common when a student gets behind in their work, around mid-terms in October and February, when preparing for exams, and/or when a student receives disappointing feedback. Feelings of being overwhelmed may lead to discouragement, procrastination, and a negative spiral. The learning support services of Queen's Learning Commons are available to help undergraduate, graduate and professional students reach their academic potential.