Gareth Hughes, Researcher and Psychotherapist at the University of Derby, gives his top tips to parents to help their children avoid tripping up when they first start university…
1) Preparation – anything that you can do to practice these skills will help. If you can get your child cooking meals, shopping for food, timetabling or practicing managing a budget it will really stand them in good stead. Talk to them about their current strengths and weaknesses and build a plan to improve on their weaknesses before their first day.
2) Expectations – talk to them about their expectations of university and encourage them to rehearse lots of potential versions of how it might be, positive and negative. What if you do meet good friends right away, will you stick with them or seek out others? What if you don’t, how will you go looking for people to be friends with?
3) Emotions – talk to them about the fact that these ups and downs are normal, encourage them to look after themselves, do things they enjoy early on, stay active and get involved in university as much as possible. It might also help if you check out their university website to see what support is available, so they know where to turn if they do start to struggle.
4) Friends – Encourage them to think about the type of friends they would like to have and where they might find them at university. They may get lucky and meet their best friends in their flat or on their course but it is wise not to rely on this. Help them to investigate what clubs and societies are available that they could join.
5) Struggle – reassure them that if they made it into university they have the academic ability to be there. They may benefit from some help with study skills so getting them to talk to a tutor or study skills advisor might help as well.
How should parents contact children/university if they're worried about them?
First, let me put a warning in front of this. It can sometimes be difficult for parents to accept but universities will usually not speak to a parent in any great detail about their children. They are now adults and our relationship is with the student. Getting any information on how they are doing, if they are attending lectures etc. usually won’t be possible.
There is actually a good reason for this. We want our students to develop the ability to manage these situations for themselves; to bring the problem solving skills we’re developing in the class room to bear on their own lives.
So, if you are concerned about your child, start by talking to them. Encourage them to use the support that is on offer (a bit of online research should help you identify what their university provides). Help them build an action plan of practical steps they can take to take control of things themselves. For situations such as homesickness, lack of motivation, confidence etc. this strategy usually produces the best results.
Obviously, if you are really concerned about their immediate safety and wellbeing it may make sense to make someone at their university aware. Most universities have a student wellbeing or student services department who can check to make sure they are ok or alternatively, you may wish to speak to halls of residence staff if they are living in halls.