Tips for Parents
Communicating Effectively with Your Student
Communication comes in an array of forms these days: Tweets, Facebook posts, texts, IMs, emails, Skype and cell phone calls. Sometimes you'll learn about something first-hand, as your student calls you on the way to class. Other times, you may find out something via Facebook. Whatever the case may be, learning to communicate effectively with your student via all these forums — and more — can be done.
Some of the rules cut across the board, as you listen and respond in supportive, open ways...
- Try to convey interest, no matter how simple or mundane the topic is. If your student contacted you, she wants to connect!
- Try not to agree or disagree with what is being shared. Use neutral words.
- Be patient and try not to interrupt, whether it's with your voice or your typed words.
- Ask open-ended questions such as, "Can you tell me more...?"
- If you're chatting on IM or texting, let your student know that you're available for a phone call, if he'd like to talk more.
Show You're Listening
- Make reflective statements such as, "So, it's sounding like you really want that job..." to show that you understand what's going on with her.
- Concentrate on "hidden" emotional meanings. What are the real feelings behind the words? If you're on the phone or Skype with your student, what is his tone of voice telling you?
- Don't assume to understand — pure listening is often much more important to your student than hearing, "Oh, I know exactly what you mean."
Summarize the Key Points
- Restate the major ideas expressed, including feelings, to help your student establish an action plan.
- Help your student sort out the important aspects of the conversation from the tangents and turns, without diminishing his feelings.
- Make statements such as, "These seem to be the key thoughts/ feelings you expressed ... did I miss anything?"
Validate Thoughts & Feelings
- Acknowledge the value of your student's feelings.
- Try to keep your own emotions from interfering with your ability to listen openly. You don't have to agree in order to be a good listener.
- Express appreciation for your student's efforts and actions, even if they seem minimal. This will remind your student that she has a cheering section — even if it's located far away!
- Make statements such as, "I'm happy you decided to discuss this with me..."
While communication methods have expanded to gadgets galore, students' needs are relatively similar to what they've always been: they need to be listened to, supported, challenged and validated. Step right up!
On the Phone
Here are five suggestions for parents and families — from college students themselves:
- Focus 100% attention on the phone call. If you can't at the time of the call, tell us so we can call back. Then, neither person needs to deal with interruptions or distractions.
- Ask questions that express genuine interest, even if you don't always understand what we are talking about.
- Don't pressure us about grades and school work, and instead ask us about what we are learning in and enjoying about our classes. Then, we can engage on an intellectual level without worrying that all you care about is our GPA.
- Ask us about our relationships with friends, faculty members and administrators — but without prying. Talk with us about our social life and use these conversations to gauge how we are doing emotionally. Our ability to maintain and nurture quality relationships on campus directly relates to our comfort level and happiness.
- Keep in mind that even though we are growing more independent of you, it's interdependence we ultimately seek. The college years are the time when we can begin having more mature conversations with you. Keep an open mind and remember that we make our own decisions on a daily basis. However, we still call home for guidance, reassurance and support.
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