We thought they were doing so well!
Where are you?!
Your mother and I are coming to get you!
You hope that when your child launches and goes off to college, military or living on their own, that the transition will be smooth and painless.
Sadly, things don’t always go according to plan.
So what do you do when your child is crashing and burning?
First, it’s important to determine what level of crash you’re dealing with.
Students can struggle to launch in a number of ways. Some struggle to meet the expectations of the academic demands and stop going to classes, start failing classes and missing assignments. While others may fail academically because they have become too involved socially and struggled with time management. Others struggle with anxiety or depression and withdraw socially, isolate physically and stop engaging in basic ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living – eating, bathing, laundry).
I break these down into 3 levels:
- Engine Trouble – These are typically smaller issues involving roommate or social circle issues, dating relationships, housing, and small grade issues (ex. “my professor is so mean and wouldn’t adjust my grade”)
You don’t want to jump in every time they get a metaphorical booboo. Sometimes manageable levels of pain can be a pretty good teacher and natural consequences can help down the road. Just because your college student runs out of beer money doesn’t mean it’s an emergency. You don’t have to be nasty about it or rub their nose in it at every family gathering for the next 20 years. But, gently reminding them of your support and asking them how they can solve the issue can help them develop problem solving skills down the road.
2. Engine Failure – These can be larger struggles such as failing a single or multiple classes, signs that anxious or depressive symptoms are starting to take a significant toll, avoidance, lying.
This second level of issues can be where parents feel they should get involved. It’s important to weigh out the pro’s and con’s of getting involved and whether it will ultimately help them to develop independence and resilience. You have to make the decision that you feel is best for your child based on their situation. But, I’ve often found that we learn the most through painful experiences and natural consequences. Once again, putting focus on your love and support for your child and letting them know you are there if you’re needed is important.
3. System Failure – These are typically crucial, time sensitive emergencies such as a child being placed on academic probation, being removed from campus due to security or law enforcement, substance abuse related issues, expressing suicidal or homicidal thoughts or plans, becoming overwhelmed and shutting down completely (ie. not eating, bathing or leaving their room/bed) due to anxious or depressive symptoms.
If your child is in college then you’ll need to get in touch with the Dean of Students, their Resident Director (RD) or Resident Assistant (RA) to try and get a full picture of what is happening and what the best course of action is. ** This is a drastically different process with the military and I will devote a separate post to this topic **
Once you’re able to meet with school staff and your child, you’re able to assess where things stand and what options you have. This could mean your child staying and connecting with an academic support counselor in their Student Services Department, the Student Resource Center or dropping/adding a particular class depending on where in the academic calendar things are when the issues are brought to light. It may mean connecting your child with the campus counseling center to target their anxiety, depression or avoidance, etc. It may mean that your child has to leave campus and won’t be allowed to return until they demonstrate they have improved their time management/study skills usually by taking a few classes at a local college to improve their GPA.
Whether they have to come home or not it’s important to remember a few things:
- No matter what, they are your child and you love them
- They likely already know they made mistakes and may have disappointed you and themselves
- Working together to come up with tangible goals and steps to improve is crucial – Try SMART Goals
- Seek professional help where you feel it’s needed
I often find myself teaching families the same Gottman counseling techniques I use in couples counseling in order to help them improve communication and navigate conflict. Some particularly beneficial Gottman concepts are:
- The Four Horsemen(the second video down)
- Diffuse Physiological Arousal (check out this article from the Gottman Institute)
- The Aftermath of an Incident (another great Gottman article)
The point at which a child struggles to launch can be difficult for everyone! It brings up a lot of negative emotions for everyone involved; but, it can also be a gigantic opportunity to grow and strengthen your relationship with that child.