Information for Families
The transition to college can be both an exciting and challenging time for a student and their family. It is common for family members and parents to be impacted by the increased demands these changes may have. The information below is provided to aid you in better supporting both yourself and your student in coping with the transition to college life.
Changes to Expect
Your student may send you conflicting messages on what they need: It can be difficult for family to go through the change process with their young adult child, not knowing what will be most helpful to them in these new situations. They may be sending you mixed messages about what they need from you given their lack of experience in this new environment. The best thing that you can do is try to remain steady and supportive and let them know that you respect them and will be there to advise them when asked.
It may be a rough transition negotiating their newfound independence: Students can struggle at first with their increased sense of freedom and responsibilities, and parents can sometimes step in and take over when it isn’t necessary- this is all part of the normal adjustment process. Sometimes students don’t begin to take the lead until their parents step back, which can be very difficult because there is no guarantee that your child will make the most responsible decision or the one you would choose. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that encouraging them to engage in active problem-solving is the best way to develop their independence and coping abilities.
Your student’s expectations may not match their experiences on campus: Your family member may have had a specific idea about what college was going to be like, and adjusting to the realities, whether they are social or academic, can bring with it new challenges in learning how to study, when to ask for support, and how to build new relationships with others. Encouraging your child to ask questions and utilize resources that are available to them when needed (like the Office of Accommodations and Accessibility or the Counseling Center) is important to their growth and success as an emerging adult.
How to Help Your Student
It is normal for there to be some ups and downs in your family member’s moods and their relationships during this time of transition. Some students benefit from additional support to help them adjust to the college environment. You may notice some of the following signs that your family member is struggling and could use some extra support:
An increase in irritability with others
Any significant changes in appearance (e.g. hygiene, dress, weight)
A drop in grades or academic performance from a previous semester
Repeatedly asking illogical or inappropriate questions or making statements that don’t make sense
Withdrawing from social supports
Reporting feeling “miserable” or “lonely”
Describing feeling distracted or having difficulty concentrating
Experiencing a loss, traumatic experience, or crisis (e.g. relationship breakup, death of friend/family, sexual assault)
Expressions of feeling hopeless or indirect statements about death or suicide (“wanting it to all be over” or “wishing I could disappear”)
Cutting, burning, or other self-harming behaviors
Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
Alcohol or drug abuse
Quick Facts About Counseling Services
Counseling Services staff are available Mondays through Fridays 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. with some evening hours available by appointment. All counseling meetings will be held privately on WebEx at this time for everyone’s health and safety.
Information discussed with counselors is generally kept confidential (see below) and counseling records are not included in students’ academic records
On-Call Services are available outside of normal business hours, including nights and weekends should a student mental health crisis arise and require prompt attention and follow-up support. The On-Call Counselor can be reached by calling Campus Safety and Security at 845-471-1822
During the counseling process, sensitive personal information is oftentimes shared. Information shared with counselors is protected by state law and professional ethics, and is not shared with individuals outside of Counseling Services without written consent by the student. However, the staff may be required to disclose information to others in specific situations related to safety concerns.
As a family member, you may rightfully be concerned about your student's well-being and want to be involved. Due to the confidentiality issues described above, Counseling Services may not disclose any information without the written consent of any student age 18 or older. Family members are always welcome to contact Counseling Services for questions or concerns.
Adjusting to college life is not only a transition process for your child, but it is also can be time of significant change for families. Below are some tips to help you attend to your own emotional needs, in addition to focusing on those of your student:
Be patient with the transition process. This is a new experience for your student as well as for you, and figuring out what is the right amount of support and distance may involve some trial and error, which may involve some hurdles in your relationship with your son or daughter. This usually improves greatly with time and patience.
Pay attention to your own emotional needs. Recognize that feelings of ambivalence, anxiety, and excitement about your young adult child leaving home are normal. Allow yourself to have these emotions.
Find new activities or challenges to channel your energy and feelings into. Consider traveling, volunteering, writing, painting, or taking up a new sport or hobby to keep you engaged in your spare time.
Adapted from Vassar College Counseling Center and University of Delaware Counseling Center.