Information For Parents & Family

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Confidentiality and Parents
Coping Strategies For Parents
What Can I Do to Help My Child From a Distance?
Is Your Student in Distress?
How You Can Help Your Student
Understanding Your Student's Adjustment to College
Helpful Resources

Confidentiality and Parents

Confidentiality is an essential part of any counseling relationship. The CAPS staff adhere to the ethical standards of their respective professions and to state and federal laws relating to confidentiality. These standards and laws prevent us from speaking with concerned parents about their student's contact with the Center unless we have the student's written permission. Thus, unless your student gives us written permission, we cannot acknowledge whether your student has been seen at the Center or is making progress in counseling. The only exceptions occur when a student is under 16 years of age, when we are concerned that a student is clearly and imminently suicidal, when we learn of ongoing child abuse, or when we are ordered to release confidential information by a court of law.

Many students prefer to keep their counseling completely private, and such privacy is typically vital for successful counseling. Assuming your student is, however, willing to have one of the counselors discuss her or his participation in counseling with you, one good way to arrange for this is by asking your student to have the counselor call you during a counseling session. The counselor will then have your student complete and sign the necessary form, and may call you using a speaker telephone, so that all concerned can participate in the conversation. Note that, in general, counseling is best served if everything parents have to share with their student's counselor is also shared with their student.

Even if your student doesn't give her or his counselor permission to provide information to you, you may choose to contact a counselor to share your concerns. Such contact may make sense, for example, if you are concerned that your student is in serious danger. Note, however, that the counselor will not be able to even acknowledge knowing your student, and that the counselor will want to discuss any information you provide with your student.

Coping Strategies For Parents

Having your child begin his or her university career can be a stressful experience for parents, especially if your son or daughter hasn't lived away from home before. During this important time of transition for the family, many parents put their own feelings and reactions on hold while helping their child prepare for university life. Attending to your own emotional needs, however, as well as your child's, will go a long way toward helping everyone feel comfortable with the challenges that going to college represents.

Read below to find some coping strategies and "food for thought" that might help you over the next few months.

Coping Strategies and "Food for Thought"

  1. Recognize that feelings of ambivalence about your child's leaving home are normal.
    For most families, this step can seem like a dramatic separation of parent and child, although it is usually the separation of adult from almost-adult. It is normal, too, to look forward to the relative peace and quiet of having your active older adolescent out of the house and having the place to yourself, or being able to spend time with your younger children!
  2. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up.
    There is little benefit in pretending that you don't feel sad, guilty, relieved, apprehensive, or whatever feelings you do have, while your child is getting ready to come to the University. You probably aren't fooling anyone by trying to hide your reactions; a healthier approach is to talk about them-with your family, friends, clergy, or whoever is a source of support for you.
  3. Make "overall wellness" a goal for yourself.
    Especially during stressful times, it helps to get enough sleep, eat healthful meals regularly, and get adequate exercise. Spending some recharging time-doing the special things that you especially like-is another step toward wellness. If you are feeling good, you are more likely to have the energy to help your child and be a good role model.
  4. Remember that, for your child, coming to the University is a tremendously important developmental step toward full adulthood.
    It represents the culmination of the teachings and learnings of 18 years or so-much of it geared toward helping your child assume a productive place in the world. This is the time when your hard work will show itself in the form of a framework that your freshman will use in beginning to make independent choices. Many parents find that it helps to focus on the fact that providing your child with this opportunity is a priceless gift. Be proud of yourself!
  5. Find a new creative outlet for yourself.

Especially parents whose last or only child has moved away to college find that taking on a new challenge is an excellent way to manage and channel their energy and feelings. Have you ever wanted to write a book? Learn to fly-fish? Make a quilt? Volunteer in your community? Assume a new project or responsibility at work? Travel? Get your own bicycle and ride all over town? Make a list of all the things you intended to do while your child was growing up, but never had the time to do. Now is your chance!

What Can I Do to Help My Child From a Distance?

Of course, you are still a parent to your almost-adult, and he or she does still need your support and guidance during the college years. Here are some ways you can express your caring and enhance your child's experience at Sonoma State University.

  1. Stay in touch!
    Even though your child is experimenting with independent choices, he or she still needs to know that you're there and are available to talk over both normal events and difficult issues. Make arrangements to write or call your child on a regular basis.
  2. Allow space for your child to set the agenda for some of your conversations.
    If he or she needs help or support, the subject is more likely to come up if you aren't inquiring pointedly about what time he or she came in last night!
  3. Be realistic with your college student about financial matters.
    Most students come to school with a fairly detailed plan about how tuition, fees, books, and room and board will be paid for, and what the family's expectations are about spending money. Being specific at the outset may help avoid misunderstandings later.
  4. Be realistic as well about academic achievement and grades.
    Not every freshman who excelled academically in high school will be a straight-A student at Sonoma State University. Developing or refining the capacity to work independently and consistently and to demonstrate mastery can be more important than grades, as long as the student meets the basic academic requirements set out by the University. Again, these are choices that each individual student makes, though certainly it is appropriate to help your child set his or her own long-term goals.
  5. If your child does experience difficulties at Sonoma State University, encourage him or her to take advantage of the wealth of resources available for students.

Is Your Student in Distress?

While at Sonoma State University, students will be faced with a great many personal, academic, and social stressors. Most will successfully navigate these challenges, while others may experience them as overwhelming and unmanageable. As a result, students may feel fearful, isolated, helpless, and alone. This distress can negatively impact a student's academic performance, and lead to disruptive behaviors such as acting out, alcohol/drug abuse, and suicide attempts.

As a parent or caregiver, you are in a unique position. You may be one of the first to recognize when your student is in distress or crisis. Expressing your interest or concern in your student's well being can be critical towards helping him or her get the assistance that is needed. This could save a student's academic career, not mention his or her life.

Consultation is Available

While this web page is designed to help you with assisting a distressed student, please remember that the staff at Counseling and Psychological Services is available to consult with you about whether and how to intervene with your student. We can help you assess the seriousness of the situation, discuss possible resources on and off campus, learn how to make a referral, and plan for follow-up. Please feel free to call us at (707) 664-2153 to consult with one of our psychologists.

Signs of Possible Distress

At one time or another, we all experience some degree of distress. However, when some of the following are present, your student may be experiencing significant distress that could interfere with his or her personal and academic functioning:

  • Uncharacteristic decline in academic performance
  • Increased absences or tardiness from class
  • Failure to complete assignments
  • Persistent appearance of depression (e.g., sad mood, loss of interest, tearfulness, weight loss, withdrawal)
  • Anxiety, nervousness, panic attacks, agitation, irritability, non-stop talking
  • Aggressiveness, acting out, emotional outbursts
  • Significant change in personal hygiene, dress, appearance
  • Bizarre behavior, speech, or mannerisms
  • Talk of death or suicide, either directly or indirectly (e.g., "It doesn't matter, I won't be around for the final exam." or "I'm not worried about finding a job, I won't need one.")
  • Homicidal threats, either verbal or in written statements

It is important to remember that just because a student appears to be experiencing one of these signs it does not necessarily mean that he or she is in significant distress. Many of the above situations are short lasting. However, if a student's distress appears to be severe, or you notice one or more of these signs over a prolonged period of time, then it may be necessary to intervene. If you have doubts or concerns about the seriousness of your student's problems, please consult with one of the staff members at Counseling and Psychological Services at (707) 664-2153.

How You Can Help Your Student

It is common for students to experience academic, personal and social stress at various points in time while in college. Most students will successfully manage the challenges of college life, while some may have more difficulty. For these students, their experience of distress may negatively impact their academic progress and personal development.

Parents, relatives, or caregivers are often one of the first to notice when a student is in distress. They may also be the first point of contact in helping a student obtain assistance. The urgency of the situation will impact the options you choose. You may decide not to intervene with your student, or you may choose to manage it with a more personal approach. If you determine that the situation is more urgent, you may decide to become more active in your involvement.

If you choose to approach your student with your concerns about his or well being, you might consider some of the following suggestions:


Talk to your student in private when both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Give your student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help him or her feel cared about as an individual and more confident about what to do.

If you have initiated the contact, express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. For example, "You said you've been absent from class lately and I'm concerned," rather than "Why haven't you been going to class? You should be more concerned about your grades."


Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, nonthreating way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what your student has told you. Try to include both content and feelings ("It sounds like you're not accustomed to such a big campus and you're feeling left out of things.") Let your student talk.


Assure your student that things can get better. It is important to help him or her realize there are options, and that things will not always seem hopeless. Suggest resources: friends, family, clergy, professionals on campus. You may not be able to solve your student's problems yourself, but you can assist him or her receive the help that is needed.


Avoid judging, evaluating, and criticizing even if your student asks your opinion. Such behavior may push the student away from you and from the help he or she needs. It is important to respect your student's value system, even if you don't agree with it.


A referral for counseling may be made when you your student's difficulties appear to go beyond your ability to help. In making a referral it is important to point out that: 1) help is available and 2) seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage rather than a sign of weakness or failure. It may be helpful to point out that seeking professional help for other problems (medical, legal, car problems, etc.) is considered good judgment and an appropriate use of resources. For example, "If you had a broken arm you would go to a doctor rather than try to set it yourself." If you can, prepare your student for what they might expect if they follow your suggestion. Tell them what you know about the referral person or services.


Follow-up with your student again to solidify his or her resolve to obtain appropriate help and to demonstrate your commitment to assisting them in this process. Check later to see that the referral appointment was kept and to hear how it went. Provide support while your student takes further appropriate action or pursues another referral if needed.


Consult with a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services 707-664-2153 if you have any questions or concerns about your student. Our counselors can help you assess your student's situation, suggest resources on and off campus, and help you make an intervention with your student.

Understanding Your Student's Adjustment to College

Leaving home and going off to college is a significant event, marking an important life transition for your student. To be supportive during this time, it may be helpful to put yourself in the "shoes" of your student, and try to understand the variety of changes and challenges he or she will face.

Changes You Might Expect in Your Student

Most parents report the experience of sending a son or daughter to college as one filled with anticipation, anxiety, confusion and hope. By opening day of the freshman year, many changes have already begun to happen. The student becomes more independent, gains competence in new areas, and learns to develop healthy peer relationships. The college years are a time for a student to continue maturing and learning how to manage oneself and life in general. What does that mean for you as a parent? Here are some of the messages you may hear:

• "Help!"/"Don't help!" It is sometimes frustrating for parents to go through the growth process with their students, not knowing how to be helpful and receiving messages which are unclear or incomplete. Students may add to the uncertainty by changing rapidly - rejecting your help on Tuesday and actively seeking it on Wednesday. We've often heard about parents in great distress because their student predicted a poor outcome on an exam, but forgot to provide an update when the results were better than expected.

As a parent, it can be difficult to know when to help, when to step back, and/or how worried to get. Usually a parent's best guideline is to provide a steady, supportive home base while recognizing that there will be ups and downs in students' needs and expectations. Try to follow the leads of the students and encourage them to work through a problem with you acting as the coach or cheerleader. Help them balance their thoughts and emotions to make their best decisions. Let them know that you respect their right to make a decision and that you will serve as an advisor when asked. Remind yourself to notice and appreciate their new skills they develop; students often want their families to recognize their progress toward becoming adults. And, remember to take care of yourself in this "Help!"/"Don't help!" process that may cause you a lot of confusion and exhaustion.

• "So whose decision is it anyway?" Most parents have a high investment in their student's decisions. Problems arise, however, when parents are more invested than students. It can be hard to lessen involvement in a student's decisions out of fear that the student won't assume responsibility. The irony is that students often don't step up to the task of being responsible until parents step back. After all, it's easier to ignore problems when someone else is worrying about them!

Taking a step back as a parent is uncomfortable, and at times frightening, because there is no guarantee that students will assume responsibility nor that they will make the same decision as you would. The fear that the student is not accepting responsibility in the interim makes most parents lose a lot of sleep. There is, however, no need to walk away disinterested and/or frustrated. Consider providing a concerned voice ("We're interested in what you decide, but we know you have to sort this out for yourself.") and remind yourself that you are helping by working with your student on developing his/her own decision-making skills.

• "College is different than I thought it would be." For many students, coming to Statesboro means finding out what college and life are about. It means learning that being a nurse means more than taking a patient's temperature and that psychology isn't necessarily the major for "people who like helping others." It also means learning how to study and how often to study. Academic expectations are more rigorous than in high school. Students accustomed to receiving "A's" and "B's" have to work much harder to earn the top grades in college. They also have to figure out when they should be studying and how to motivate themselves to do so. Ultimately, they learn when to ask for help and when to resolve issues on their own.

Coming face-to-face with new challenges is common in college. Finding support in dealing with these challenges is equally important. The university has many resources (e.g. counseling, academic advisement, health education, and much more) to address students' needs. In their quest for independence, students sometimes assume that being an adult means it isn't necessary to ask questions. Parents can remind students that asking questions and using available resources reflect maturity - and that doing these things does not detract from their autonomy or growth as an adult. At the same time, parents and other family members can serve key roles in providing the support needed. Students tell us that it is important to know that their parents will offer consistent support as they venture out to meet the world. The influential role which parents have in the lives of students continues through college and beyond.

• "I'm back!" The first visit home from college is usually an interesting one for the entire family. Students may return home thinking that their newly found independence will be recognized and appreciated by the family. In contrast, parents and siblings continue to live in their usual style and generally expect that the established "house rules" will still apply.

Parents can anticipate that their expectations will differ from those held by students during those first visits home. Instead of creating a situation in which a battle ensues, seeking a compromise that honors both the family's needs and the growing independence of the student might be an appropriate goal. If your son or daughter is commuting to school from home, consider the ways in which his or her new level of responsibility and independence will be acknowledged in the home.

Describing the many experiences which students and their families will have during college is not possible because every family is different. The professional counselors at Counseling and Psychological Services would be happy to talk with you about your specific situation. Please contact us at 707-664-2153.

Helpful Resources


Don't Tell Me What To Do: Just Send Money, by Helen Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller (2000).

When Your Kid Goes To College: A Parent's Survival Guide, by Carol Barkin (1999).

Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years, by Karen Levin Coburn & Madge Lawrence Treeger 5th Edition (2009).

You're On Your Own (But I'm Here if You Need Me) : Mentoring Your Child During the College Years, by Marjorie Savage (2003).

I'll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students, by Margo E. Woodacre Bane (2006).

Been There, Should've Done That II: More Tips for Making the Most of College, by Suzette Tyler (2001).

She's Leaving Home: Letting Go As Daughter Goes To College, by Connie Jone (2002).

Give Them Wings, by Carol Kuykendall (1998).

Empty Nest ... Full Heart: The Journey from Home to College, by Andrea Van Steenhouse (2002).

How to Survive and Thrive in an Empty Nest: Reclaiming Your Life When Your Children Have Grown, by Jeanette Lauer (1999).

Almost Grown: Launching Your Child from High School to College, by Patricia Pasick (1998).

Becoming a Wise Parent for Your Grown Child, by Eileen Clegg and Betty Frain (2006).

Web Sites to Helpful Information

Additional Support and Information for Parents of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth

Discussion of Faith and LGBT Issues for Parents.

Answers to your Questions about Sexual Orientation. (English - pdf)
Answers to your Questions about Sexual Orientation. (Spanish - pdf)

Questions and Answers for Parents of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth and Adults. (English)
Questions and Answers for Parents of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth and Adults. (Spanish - pdf)

College Parents of America

National Resource Center for First-Year Experience and Students in Transition

The U.S. Department of Education's Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention

Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

Sonoma State Resources for Students with Disabilities

Guide for Parents of Students with Disabilities (University of Texas at Arlington)

Black Excel: Primarily focused on helping African Americans with college admission, but has other resources and articles

Latinos in College: All-encompassing resource for assisting Latino students and their families in choosing schools, finding funding, and succeeding in college.