Parents and Supporters

Mum and daughter at 101 days

Sending your child off to university can be an emotional and confusing 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 difficult. Here’s some information that can help you understand some of the potential challenges your child may face and some tips on how to offer help.

Campus Wellness resources for your student

Health Services - The on-campus Student Medical Clinic offers a range of services, from providing prescriptions and immunizations to addressing mental and sexual health concerns. Meet with doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, mental health specialists, and dietitians.

Counselling Services - Counselling Services is dedicated to supporting your student's personal, social, and academic experience at Waterloo. It offers one-on-one, group, and peer support counselling, plus coping skills seminars and workshops to support your mental health.

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 judgment 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, and group therapy. 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 North on the second floor and our phone number is 519-888-4096. 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.
  • Health Services is located across the bridge from the SLC and our phone number is 519-888-4096. Our staff provide primary medical care to registered students at University of Waterloo.
  • UW MATES peer support volunteers are available for drop-in or scheduled appointments.
  • UW Police are available 24 hours a day to help students. Your student can call the UW Police at 519-888-4567 ext. 42655 and they will help refer your student to the appropriate after-hours resources.
  • EmpowerMe is a 24/7 helpline. To access create an account on the Dialogue mobile app or on the web at
  • 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 Services Database for more information about the supports available.

Download our Parents and Supporters Guide (PDF) for more information.

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

Book suggestions

  • Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn,‎ Madge Lawrence Treeger