This was originally published on College Parent Central, the website of regular CollegiateParent contributor Vicki Nelson. The article has clear, practical insights into what needs to happen now and how parents and family members can support the adjustment and their student's continued engagement and success. Thank you, Vicki, for allowing us to share it!
It seems as though the entire world has gone upside down right now. Life is surreal and not a little bit terrifying. The Coronavirus dominates the news, most events have been cancelled, we’re all staying closer to home, some of us are working from home, schools are closing, and we all wonder what’s next.
If you have a college student, there’s a good chance that they are home, or headed home, possibly for the remainder of the school year. Many colleges are moving their courses online and it’s going to be a whole new world for many college students – and for their families.
We’re all going to be readjusting for the next few days. Everything feels awkward and out of place right now and it may take some time before your student finds their “new normal.” Stay flexible and go with the flow. Be available for your student, who may want to talk – or may not. Unlike Break, your student isn’t on vacation this time, they’ve just shifted where and how they’ll need to do college – at least for a little while.
Adjusting to the New Family Dynamic
Your student has come home, but this may not be a seamless transition. Everyone is unsure about how temporary our new situation may be and it’s difficult to stay focused. Here are a few things that you can do that may help you and your student adjust.
Give your student as much privacy as possible. They’ve been on their own for a while now and probably need to continue to have more space than they had before they left.
Be clear about any “house rules.” Now that your student is back home, what are your expectations? Will they have responsibilities? Will they need to help out with younger siblings who may be home as well? Be sure everyone has a clear understanding before issues occur.
Recognize that your student may continue to live on “college time.” Their best work is probably not done at 7:00 am, and they may just be hitting their stride at midnight. Unless their routine severely disrupts others in the house, you may need to learn to appreciate their schedule.
Remember that your student will have work to do. Younger siblings may be home with little that they need to do. Make sure they understand that your college student still has all of their schoolwork to complete.
Don’t let your student underestimate how much time and work this will take. Make sure they realize that online courses often take more time and work than just showing up for class. Their coursework may require more engagement, independence, and time than they are used to.
If you are working from home as well, share some tips – or share your frustrations. Ask your student for suggestions. You’re in the same situation and can help each other out.
Recognize that this is a big adjustment and transition for all of you. Some students are thrilled to be home and to move to an online environment and others are worried that they won’t be able to learn and succeed this way. Listen a lot and be as reassuring as you can.
“College-at-Home” Comes with Challenges
Your student is going to be entering a new learning environment, and it is one without the kind of structure that they may have had at school. This may be difficult for many students. Some students will adjust quickly, and others will struggle with this new form of learning.
Make sure your student is clear about what they need to do and how they plan to get it done. Set up a time to touch bases and ask your student to share their plan with you.
Make sure your student knows how their college is setting up this new learning format. How will it work? Will there be recorded lectures? Zoom or other video conferences? Discussion boards? Online assignments? Online tests/quizzes? Group work?
Make sure your student is clear about whether they can do their work any time or whether they will be expected to log on at a certain time for a discussion board, chat, or lecture. This may be different for each course.
Suggest that your student set up regular “work” hours. Remind them that when they were on campus they had a schedule and routine to keep them on track. Help them think about how and when they plan to get their work done.
Talk to your student about their learning style. Do they prefer to learn things by seeing them? By hearing them? By experiencing and doing things? How will this new learning format challenge them? Anticipating some of the difficulties will help your student think about how to overcome them.
Make sure your student has access to the technology they will need and that they are comfortable using it. If they need help with access or with understanding what they need do, have them reach out to the college. Most schools are prepared to make sure students have what they need and they are prepared to offer extra training. This is not the time for your student to be shy about asking for help. Ask the professor. Ask other students. Write to the Dean or Tech office.
Remind your student that this style of teaching and learning may be entirely new to their professors as well. Everyone is on a steep learning curve. Your student will need to have patience with the professor and understand that things may change – and hopefully improve – as the semester goes along.
Getting the Work Done
Getting organized and started takes work, but it is followed by actually getting the learning and assignments done.
Make sure your student has a quiet, distraction free place to work.
Remember that professors are scrambling and changing courses that were not originally intended to be taught online. Be sure that your student reads everything that they receive or that is posted online. They need to make a list of what they need to do – and the deadlines for getting things done.
Encourage your student to reach out to the professor if they have questions, don’t understand something, or don’t know what to do. There are many ways to connect, including traditional email, and most professors realize that some students will need extra help. Professors may have online office hours posted. Have your student request a phone conversation if that feels better.
Step back and let your student get their work done – without you looking over their shoulder. Once you are certain that they know what they need to do and that they know how to get it done, let them take charge – just as they would at school. Just because they are back under your roof, don’t slip back into your high school caretaking role. Give your student the space – and the responsibility – to determine what and when and how their work will get done.
And two last suggestions — for everyone.
Get outside and move around. We’re all practicing social distancing, but we can get outside. We all need the fresh air and sunshine right now. We need to move — even if we can’t do much with others. And try to remind yourself — and your student — not to get frustrated or impatient or give up. Do everything that you can to keep your student feeling positive — and to stay positive yourself.
Vicki Nelson has more than thirty-five years of experience in higher education as a professor, academic advisor and administrator. She also has weathered the college parenting experience successfully with three daughters. She began her website, College Parent Central, to help college parents achieve the delicate balance of support, guidance, appropriate involvement, and knowing when to get out of the way.