How to support your student

Sending your child off to university can be an emotional and confusingParents dropping off student at university time for both you and your student. Knowing when to step back and let your student assert their independence and when to offer support can be a difficult thing to know. Here’s some information that can help you understand some of the potential challenges your child may face and some tips for how to offer help.

Common experiences and feelings of first-year students

  • Living away from home – Whether they are living in residence or off-campus, many students are experiencing the newfound independence of living on their own for the first time.
  • New friends – Many first year students are forging new friendships with people on campus in their classes or residences. They may be struggling to maintain their old friendships from high school at the same time and encountering difficulties based on distance or changing interests.
  • School pressures – First-year students can sometimes find university expectations, schedules and subjects to be different from what they experienced in high school. Many of our first-year students will also participate in the co-op application process.
  • Exploring their identity – Many university students go through a period of self-exploration and definition during their time at university, which may include ideas about their interests, religion, politics etc.

Everyone struggles at some point

Doors at Counselling ServicesIt is not uncommon for students to need help from a mental health professional at some point during their time at university. Recent studies have shown that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience poor mental health at some point in their lifetime. There is no shame in asking for help – between May 2015 and April 2016 Counselling Services saw 3,839 individuals through our various services.

Recognizing the signs of mental health concerns

There are many different signs of mental health concerns, including:

  • a sudden disinterest in or absence from classes
  • patterns of perfectionism
  • deterioration in physical appearance
  • excessive fatigue
  • noticeable self-harm marks
  • unusual inability to make eye contact
  • statements indicating distress or intent to self-harm
  • difficulty controlling emotions
  • sudden social withdrawal
  • expressions of hopelessness

How can you help

  • Keep in touch - When your student goes off to university, make sure to they know they can still get in touch with you at any time for support. Maintaining supports from home can be a key factor in your child’s mental health. Even if there is a large geographical distance, schedule a weekly, or bi-weekly Skype call (or whatever cadence you and your student are comfortable with). That way your student knows they’ve always got a time to talk with you.
  • Stay positive – If you are concerned about your student, express your concern in a positive tone and point out specific behaviours that have caused you concern. If they open up to you about their struggles, listen with empathy and without judgement and encourage them to elaborate. Remember, opening up can be hard and emotional for both of you.
  • Understand more about the student experience – Sign up for the Student Success Office Parent and Family eNewsletter to find out more about what’s going on at different points of the school year and the experiences your student may be having. They also offer a Resources section that outlines the key differences between high school and university and tips for maintaining communication with your student.
  • Refer your student to supports – University of Waterloo has several resources available to support students in different situations. Counselling Services offers individual counselling, workshops, seminars, group therapy and peer to peer support. Some of our seminars are even available online, so your student can view them on their own time.
  • Celebrate hard work vs. results – Recognize that part of the process of learning is sometimes putting in a lot of hard work, but not necessarily hitting a goal average on the first try.

Where to refer your student on campus

  • Counselling Services is located in Needles Hall Addition on the second floor and our phone number is 519-888-4567 ext. 32655. Our office hours are Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and your student can meet with an Intake Specialist who can help them put together a wellness plan which might include further counselling or attending one of our workshops, or many other options.
  • UW MATES peer support volunteers are available for drop-in or scheduled appointments in Counselling Services offices at Needles Hall Addition on the second floor, Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. as well.
  • UW Police are available 24 hours a day Counselling Services office hours, your student can call the UW Police at 519-888-4567 ext. 32655 and they will help refer your student to the appropriate after-hours resources.
  • Good2Talk is a 24/7 helpline for post-secondary students in Ontario and can be reached at 1-866-925-5454.
  • Here 24/7 is the Waterloo Region helpline. Your student can reach them at 1-844-437-3247.

Want to learn more?

The University has many supports available for students for a variety of needs including personal counselling, career counselling, AccessAbility Services, religious chaplains, academic advisors and more. See our list for more information about the supports available.

You can also watch this Ted Talk from Carol Dweck on the Power of Believing That You Can Improve.