What to do when your child is failing college?

 In Articles, Parenting

A parent’s fears about sending their children out into the world can feel insurmountable. This is especially true on the day of their child’s graduation as well as the day they send them off to college. Something else parents may not be prepared for is the fear that seeps in on the day when their children return home unsuccessful. It is natural for a parent in this situation to think that they made a mistake, that they “went wrong somewhere”, or that the child’s “failure” is somehow their mistake, their burden to bear. Your feelings may echo those of your son or daughter, and you may feel similarly lost, directionless, or unsure where to go. The following is a good guide for how to care for yourself in this trying time as well as what to say and what to do moving forward.

How to Care for Yourself

Before flying off the handle, or becoming inconsolable, take a moment to check in with yourself and what is being said by your inner narrative. Whether your response is in anger, disappointment, exasperation, or frustration, take a moment to understand that the root of these feelings is in that deeper sense of fear. Examine that fear, for your child, your finances, or what this news means about yourself as a parent. Recognize what is an appropriate reaction, and vow not to make the situation worse by losing control of yourself.

What to Say

There may be a whole host of things that you are dying to say to your teen or young adult, but you should first consider what they must be feeling and how they’re processing through their own mishap. Consider that they felt safe enough to come to you with this news, rather than to hide it, and then recognize that you are in a unique position to either build a deeper relationship or destroy it. Remember that ultimately this is not your problem to solve, and being Mr. or Mrs. Fix-it was edited out of the job description long ago. Your job now is to encourage good behavior, to help them build problem-solving and decision-making skills of their own. Remember that good communication in times like these between the child and the parent develops understanding. Asking irrelevant questions and giving bad advice does not give good results. If you are unsure of what to say, try something along the lines of the following:

“I can imagine that you’re probably feeling pretty lousy about yourself right now, what have you thought about to fix it?” or “I’m sorry to hear about the rough semester. What do you think led to the results you had?”

Encourage your child to do their own exploration, rather than demanding answers and explanations.

What to Do

When children return home, they may easily slip back into the routines of their younger self by remaining dependent upon you as their parents. Make it clear to them what you will and will not pay for, and they should not be allowed to use your home as an escape from reality. Set limits and rules for as long as they live in your household, which may include rent as well as gradually shifting them to having other responsibilities of the home. By making your home a supportive, and yet controlled environment, your children will be motivated to seek their independence once again.

Again, while you should encourage your child’s exploration and decision-making, if your child appears to be struggling with behaviors like a drug or alcohol addiction, or they are suffering from a mental health issue, you may still be able to encourage them to seek out the help that they need. Arm yourself with information about programs like Launch Centers (Partial Day, IOP, Outpatient), which are specifically designed for teens and young adults going through similar issues.

At Launch Centers, we believe that young adults need a plan forward. They need a roadmap to help guide them in their lives and someone to help them learn the skills along the way. Have them give us a call, or do so yourself to learn more about what we have to offer.


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