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Helping Your Child Who Struggles With Anxiety

Anxiety is an epidemic among teenagers and college students.

In many cases, students are dropping out of college because of anxiety and health centers are seeing more students than ever. The APA sites, “Anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students (41.6 percent), followed by depression (36.4 percent) and relationship problems (35.8 percent).”

So what’s the best way to help if your child is suffering from anxiety?

Talk to them about it. Let them know you understand they are suffering and assure them they are not alone. Encourage them to talk to their friends or roommates. Chances are their friends are suffering too. Visiting the mental health center on campus is also a good idea. Or even the urgent care at school, if they are really concerned.

Often anxiety presents itself with physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, a racing heart, and lightheadedness. It can also bring on numbness in fingers and hands. These symptoms can frighten a student who is otherwise healthy.

My daughter picked up a brochure at the health center about anxiety and the headline read: You Are Not Having a Heart Attack. It then explained the top physical signs of anxiety. She thought it would be a great idea if the college handed out these flyers to all the freshman, since just about everyone she knew suffered from the symptoms.

A friend who is a therapist suggested that sometimes freshman have too much time on their hands since often colleges suggest an easier workload first semester. She said they have too much time to worry and suggests they take on an additional pass/fail classes or find an on-campus job.

Social media is to blame for a lot of this newly brought on anxiety, but so is being away from home for the first time and tougher academics. Anxiety can also be hereditary. This article from the Huffington Post offers a helpful list of seventeen ideas to help with anxiety. My daughter and I are both trying ideas on this list. Just because I’m not in college, doesn’t mean I don’t get anxious. Getting off social media is one of the top items. Not a bad idea for all of us these days.

But please take your child’s anxiety seriously and if you feel it’s becoming a bigger problem than the above list can help with, seek professional help. If you can aid them in managing their anxiety at this young age, they will take those skills with them into the future.

Exploring why 30% College Freshman Don’t Go Back After the First Year and How to Prevent It

I recently read the New York Times story, When A College Student Comes Home to Stay. And wow. This would have been very helpful to read when my daughter was in high school. Luckily I still have one more at home and hope my son will benefit from my newly acquired wisdom.

The article suggests many reasons for dropping out of college after the freshman year including; finances, failing grades, mental health issues, and homesickness. But the idea that impressed me most was, “at the end of the day, what your child needs most is practice running his or her own life — and college is a risky place to do that for the first time.”

This rang true because I now understand the main reason my daughter is struggling at college emotionally is because we did too much for her while she was in high school.

She was telling me the other day that now in college she has to make every decision for herself including what she will eat for dinner when she will eat dinner and if she will eat dinner. What I thought would be a liberating moment for her, was more of a stressful one.

These simple choices about food are only compounded as she decides everything for herself. What classes to take, where to study, how to get around campus etc.

I hadn’t realized that while I thought I was supporting her by being on top of her high school schedule and driving her where she needed to go and cooking healthy meals, I was actually weakening her. She needed some training on making her own decisions.

How do I do that for my son? He is a high school junior, so there is still time. The first thing I have implemented is to have him help me with some household repairs, something I wish I had done with his sister.

So when the toilet clogged this weekend, I showed him how to use the plunger. When we needed to change out a deadbolt on our front door, I had him do the work as his dad and I talked him through it. And starting this week I am going to see to it that he finds his own way home from school on Fridays. He can take the bus or the train or ride with a friend. And I think one day of the week, we’ll have him make dinner. He needs to develop according to the article, “skills to take care of himself.”

The article goes on to say that, “students haven’t been given control of their own lives until way too late.” So even as our instincts as parents are to hang on to our young ones as long as we can, we actually need to let go a bit sooner. It’s going to be hard for us, but it will be more helpful to our students in the long run.

Can Your Freshman Make it Through the Rest of the Semester?

My daughter was home from college this weekend and she was in heaven. She was grateful for her bed, her home and most importantly her family. She’s met many students with difficult family lives and realized how good hers was. Her revelation made us all grateful.

At the end of the weekend, it was hard for her to imagine a nine-hour bus ride back to college where she would be crammed into a small room with two other girls. Exams are looming and the food in the cafeteria is starting to all taste the same.

“What would your life be like if you didn’t go back?” I asked her when she started to make noises that she couldn’t. She said, she would get a job and then go to community college. She couldn’t finish the sentence without realizing it wasn’t really what she wanted. Yes, being away from home is hard. Especially when everything she has ever known is at home. But I asked her to think about what she wanted for her life and how she was going to get that. She wants to go into politics. So I asked her if she needed to go to college for that career. She agreed she did.

I suggested every time she thought about wanting to be at home, to think about her big goal and know she needs to finish college in order to achieve that. Don’t think about the comfort you are missing at home, but think about the life you will lead in the future. Besides, a comfortable life would be a boring life and I know if she stayed home and did not go back to college she’d be bored in about a week.

 

So how do you help your college freshmen get through the rest of the semester?

  • Remind them that Winter break is only three weeks away
  • Remind them that their job right now is to focus on schoolwork
  • Plan a couple of fun activities for winter break, a trip or something local. Put that special event on the calendar or buy tickets for it now, so they have something to look forward to
  • Perhaps start planning a community service day for when they return. Visit a nursing home or homeless shelter
  • Read one of the books they have been assigned so that you can discuss it with them when they return
  • Plan a day with you and your college student, lunch, mani-pedi, bike riding, tossing a football. Something where they get your full attention for the whole day. You will love this too because in a couple of years they may be studying abroad during winter break or off vacationing with friends

I believe freshman are confused as to where they belong. They are living between home and dorm. Let them know that when they are home, nothing has changed, you can still do the things as a family you used to. Comfort and routine are what they crave. Adventure is what they need.

Remedies for Homesickness

It’s almost Columbus Day and I am learning some of my daughter’s friends who went to college across the country are flying home for the long weekend. I know they are also planning to come home for Thanksgiving, so why spend the money and take the long journey now? Homesickness is why.

My daughter who just moved into her dorm last week wants to come home next weekend to see her friends. She is already feeling homesick but I don’t think coming home next weekend would be a good idea.

I feel lucky to talk to my daughter almost every day since she has been gone and my son texts her most nights. I know she talks to her high school friends quite often. Her campus is amazing and there is so much to do and so many new friends to make. So why be homesick? I told her she is not missing anything here. “If you were home now you’d probably just be hanging out on the sofa reading.” “That’s what I want to do!” she said.

According to CNN, “… despite the way it’s coined, homesickness isn’t necessarily about home. And neither is it exactly an illness, experts said.
‘Instead, it stems from our instinctive need for love, protection and security — feelings and qualities usually associated with home’, said Josh Klapow, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Alabama’s School of Public Health. ‘When these qualities aren’t present in a new environment, we begin to long for them — and hence home. You’re not literally just missing your house. You’re missing what’s normal, what is routine, the larger sense of social space, because those are the things that help us survive,’ Klapow said.”

“He offered another way of approaching homesickness: It’s merely an emotion that comes in waves. ‘Very few emotions stay with you all the time, they come and they go,’ he said. But when it strikes, both children and adults often get caught off guard by it, he added. ‘They think something’s terribly wrong. But it’s normal and adaptive to feel homesick for some period of time. It’s just your emotions and mind telling you you’re out of your element.’”

“‘It turns out, [homesickness is] the very thing that inoculates against a future bout of homesickness,’ Thurber said. ‘By living through a difficult separation, your mind forces itself to cope.’ It’s this reason why experts advise parents against helicoptering their children out of college if they complain about homesickness.”

Kaplow suggests parents stop emailing and texting their students every five minutes. Instead set up a time once a week when they talk. Students need to learn problem solving and suffering a bit can be the best way to learn.

How can you not love it when your college freshman calls you and wants to tell you about her day? It feels wrong to tell my daughter I can’t talk to her for another week. But I see his point, I get it.

The last thing you want to do is to watch your child suffer. And if homesickness is not missing your home but it stems from the instinctive need for love, then us parents are suffering from homesickness too with our kids gone. So maybe the once a week call is good for all of us. As hard as it is to admit.

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