Supporting Your Student

An important part of a student’s college experience involves learning about how to manage their health and to be an effective advocate for their health concerns. For some students, this could mean learning how to make (and keep) a medical appointment, understanding how to get a prescription filled at a pharmacy, or how to give a provider the important details of their health/medication history.

College comes with many ups and downs, and it can be challenging as a family member or supporter of a student when you see that they are struggling with something. Read on for some suggestions as to how you can best support your student.

Help them Prepare.

Before your student comes to campus, and/or when they’re home during breaks, you can encourage them to do the following to practice managing their own health:

  • Encourage your student to call and make their next medical appointment and obtain general information about the appointment.
  • Review the basics of your insurance plan with your student, providing copies of their medical, prescription drug, dental, and/or vision insurance cards, discussing any requirements for pre-approval, whether and when to notify the insurance company following hospitalization or emergency room care, and the difference between “in-network” and “out-of-network” care.
  • Discuss any seasonal, food, or drug allergies and personal and family medical histories, ensuring that your student can provide the basics to a healthcare provider.
  • Discuss the resources on campus and encourage your student to utilize them.
  • Send your student to college with basic first aid supplies and over the counter medication(s).
  • Encourage your student to contact the Associate Dean and Chief Wellness Officer if they are not satisfied with health or counseling services at Simmons, before calling home. We always take student concerns seriously, and direct communication is the best way for us to understand a student’s feedback and address concerns.

Offer support while encouraging responsibility.

As a family member or supporter, it can be difficult to know when to help, when to step back, and/or how worried to get. Usually your 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 lead of your student 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 the new skills they develop; students often want their families to recognize their progress toward becoming adults.

It can be tempting to respond to your student’s confusion and distress by stepping in and taking charge of the situation, directing it to the resolution you feel is best. While this may seem like the quickest way to alleviate your student’s discomfort, it prevents them from having an opportunity to realize and expand their own ability to confront difficult situations and bring about workable solutions. It is important that your student continue to feel your ongoing support and “safety net” as they transition into adulthood, while also taking an appropriate and increasing level of responsibility for working things through for themselves. Their solution will be their own, and the process of arriving at that point can be as important as the outcome itself.

Most family members and supporters have a high investment in their student’s decisions. Problems arise, however, when they 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 family members and supporters step back. After all, it’s easier to ignore problems when someone else is worrying about them!

Be realistic.

College can be bumpy in the same way that life is bumpy. There will undoubtedly be times when your student will stumble, whether academically or socially. They might not get the grade they’d hoped for on an exam, or their relationship with their roommate might not be as easy or as close as they had hoped. Maintaining that connection with a partner at home might prove to be more difficult than they’d expected. Whatever the scenario, it can be helpful to convey to your student that, realistically, there will be disappointments and struggles during their transition to college and during their time here, but that they can get through it and that there are resources to help if need be.

It can also be helpful to remind yourself that your student will encounter challenges—that things won’t always go the way you or they would hope or that resolving a problem may take some time—but, again, these situations are generally surmountable, and help is always available. Also, be realistic and specific with your student about financial issues including what you will and will not pay for, as well as your expectations for how your student will spend money. It is also important to be realistic about your student’s academic performance, recognizing that not every straight-A student in high school will be a straight-A student in college. Help your student to set their academic goals; encourage them to do their best and to seek assistance if needed.

Balance contact and space.

Technology makes it easier for families to be in close contact with each other than ever before. Such contact can provide emotional help and support during times of transition and crisis, but it is also important to recognize that your student needs to establish themselves at Simmons and find ways to feel fully at home and comfortable here on campus. Part of the developmental challenge of the coming years for students will be to navigate many changes. These changes provide practice for the bigger challenge ahead: graduation and finding their way in the “real world.” Balancing staying in touch with your student while allowing them the space to make their own choices and mistakes is an important piece in helping your student succeed in college.

Attempt regular communication, but don’t be concerned if your student isn’t always responsive.

Let your student set the agenda for some of your conversations and ask generalized questions. All in all, the less you ask, the more they are likely to tell. Unfortunately, students often only feel an urge to communicate when they are in distress, so you may hear about all of the disappointments without ever hearing about the triumphs in their lives. Try not to worry too much about the occasional emotional phone call or email home. Be patient with that “nothing-is-going-right-I-hate-this-place” communication. You are providing a real service as an advisor, sounding board and sympathetic ear.

Suggest Resources

There are numerous people and offices on campus that are available to help your student navigate their time here. Take some time to look at the various campus resources to familiarize yourself with what’s available, so that you can offer suggestions when your student needs some assistance. If you have questions you want to ask directly, or if a particular problem arises, call the appropriate person, but make sure to involve your child in a collaborative effort to address the problem.

How Can I Tell If My Student Is in Serious Distress?

Many of the problems students face are relatively temporary and students recover fairly quickly. However, if the intensity or persistence of the problems makes it hard for your student to function effectively for longer than a few weeks (e.g., the student is not acting like her/his “normal self,” grades are declining, they are withdrawing from family and friends), or if your student is experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, it is advisable to encourage your student to access mental health care right away. We recommend that you allow your student to take the initiative in accessing our services. Part of the therapeutic process involves them taking responsibility for their well-being by taking the initiative to schedule an appointment. Below you will find links to resources that you can share with your student.

Does the Health Center Communicate with Parents/Families?

Our clinic does not offer a general/blanket release of information form. Because part of our work is to help students learn how to self-advocate and manage their own care, we allow them to determine whether they want information shared with others about the care they are receiving. We also encourage students to continually involve their families or other trusted adults in their care. If a family member or supporter wanted to contact us to ask about a particular issue, we would first ask the student for permission to talk with that individual about that situation. Family members and supporters are always welcome to contact us if they have pertinent information to share regarding their student's medical issues, or if they have questions about how we typically manage a given situation.

Many families and supporters are understandably concerned about medical emergencies happening while their student is at Simmons. If a situation arises where a student is incapacitated due to a medical emergency, the University will reach out to the emergency contact that the student has on file. Students should designate emergency contacts in Workday.

If your student is managing a serious and/or chronic health condition, we strongly encourage them to make an appointment with one of our providers at the start of the academic year. This allows them to meet a clinician, discuss their condition and care needs, and gain an understanding of how the Health Center can support them during their time at Simmons.

Occasionally, families will ask to submit a healthcare proxy, power of attorney, or other similar document for their student. While students and their families/supporters are welcome to do so, the Health Center doesn't provide care for students in emergency situations- if a student had a medical emergency where they were incapacitated or that was life-threatening, their care would be transferred to a local hospital. A healthcare proxy or power of attorney can certainly be a useful document in emergency situations, but would likely not be something that would apply to situations that are managed at the Health Center on campus. If you or your student have additional questions about this, please feel free to contact the Associate Dean and Chief Wellness Officer.