Advice from the Psychological Services Center
The holidays are both a blessed time and a stressful time. Most of us will be spending a lot more time with family and your college-age kids may be coming back into the house after having been away all semester at school. While you probably have been in touch with them by phone, texting, e-mail, even FaceBook, you may not have had many opportunities to actually lay eyes on them. You may not even get much chance to do so during winter break if your kids are busy catching up with friends and spending time running around. When you do catch a few moments in the same room with them, you might do a quick mental health check-in/check-up with them.
How are they sleeping? How are they eating? What is their mood like? I know, I know, asking these questions as a parent is not likely to be met with the same excitement as, say, “What kind of holiday present would you like?” But take the opportunity to observe. Are they getting good sleep? Are they excited and reasonably happy about what is going on or are they grumpy or complaining of being bored? Is there evidence they are drinking? Are they eating heartily or are they picking at food? Are they eating beyond heartily – perhaps eating lots of starches and never seeming to have enough food? Have they’ve gained or lost a lot of weight?
If you observe something that is troubling, the next step in addressing the issue has a lot to do with the kind of rapport and communication you already have established. It is a lot easier to talk about potential issues when parents and children have a history of having done so. If you haven’t talked much in the past, it’s never too late to start. It’s important to clearly state what have observed and what your concerns are but have the discussion when both you and your student have some down time so that neither of you is rushed or stressed. As a parent, the most important thing to do is to listen carefully and patiently to what your son or daughter has to say. If they don’t have much to say, encourage them by providing space for them to respond, letting them know what you’ve heard so far and that you are interested in hearing more.
Coming up with a way to address an issue isn’t usually difficult once you and your son or daughter have discussed what’s going on. It may involve making contact with a third party to talk an issue through and we at the Psychological Services Center or the counseling staff at the Health and Wellness Center can help if that is the case. It may also involve offering support, guidance or developing a plan of action. Knowing that it is OK to be upset or lonely or worried goes a long way toward helping your child use the holidays as a time to recharge and be prepared to return to school ready to re-engage academically and socially. Knowing that they have support on the home front is one of the most important steps.
Wishing you and yours a happy, joyous and healthy holiday season,
Karl Stukenberg, PhD
Director, Psychological Services Center
Associate Professor, Department of Psychology