Helping your kid over the rough spots

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: Helping your kid over the rough spots
By Koolgorl (Koolgorl) on Sunday, September 12, 2004 - 10:44 pm: Edit

My S seems to be over the "I'm so excited about being at this great school" phase and altho nothing is terrible, he just sounds alittle subdued and kinda down. He's at a very selective school and knew no else who was going there. He likes his suitemates and has made some friends, but he seems to really be missing his long time highschool friends and that support and easy friendship. I think he is also missing the "status" he had while in high school. Now everyone is as smart and talented (or more so) than him. Any words of wisdom that might help him during this adjustment period?

By Sfe (Sfe) on Sunday, September 12, 2004 - 11:09 pm: Edit

Well I'm not sure these are words of wisdom - but if it helps I think your S is experiencing a very common pattern. Often kids seem to get through the first few weeks/months (timing varies of course) of their freshman year on excitement and adrenalin and then a sort of lull hits. A routine begins to be established and everything no longer seems totally new and full of endless possibilities, but things (including friendships) are not long-enough-established to be totally reliable and old-shoe-comfortable either. So they are almost in a worst-of-both-worlds phase for a few weeks. (Some kids hit this phase pretty early. For others this phase coincides with the pressure of midterms and the beginning of dismal winter weather too - which is a double whammy.)

Sorry I have no magic cure but maybe if your S knows it is a common experience and this phase too will pass it will help him weather it. Make sure he knows it isn't just him - and that it doesn't necessarily mean he's a)at the wrong school, b)will never make closer friends, c)will never be happy or excited about the place again, and so on.

(I spent my entire childhood moving all around the country/world, and it was a predictable phase of EVERY move. The first few weeks were exciting/terrifying, but then I would hit the no-longer-terrifying but not-yet-comfortable phase and would be homesick and lonely. It does pass! And as I learned to recognize the pattern, while it didn't make that phase any more enjoyable, at least I knew it wouldn't last forever.)

By Bookworm (Bookworm) on Sunday, September 12, 2004 - 11:22 pm: Edit

Take a look at at Alongfortherides's post under 'Best news so far".She talks of S realizing how he has to work, not being best, yet finding his close friend in another school going thru same thing.
Seems so much adjustment; trying to deal with a roommate, dorm food, loneliness, unfamiliar surroundings, yet also expecting to get the A's they were use to getting. Someone should tell these kids that first semester is often when they have lowest GPAs. How can they be expected to learn how to balance study and social life, while also coping with rm/mts, laundry, etc? At this point, each kid hasn't shown their particular areas of strength. They are taking core courses. In time, they will find friends, and will focus on classes that are their strengths. Sorry, no words of wisdom, just compassion for the experience.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 09:08 am: Edit

Koolgorl -- I too remember being struck by the "I'm not the smartest one anymore!" factor, which can hit kids at selective schools. I made sure to warn my D about that -- at a highly selective school, remember that if you're barely average, that's pretty good.

It does sound like the honeymoon period is over, people are buckling down to classes, etc., and the orientation activities in which kids are "scheduled" somewhat end. After that, you're on your own. I don't think there's anything you can do except be available if he wants to talk. Also, encourage him to join an activity if he feels he has time and he thinks it will help make him feel like he "belongs."

I am glad you posted, because to read some people's posts here, you'd think that kids have no problems at all freshman year, it's all just happy, happy, happy. Well of course that's not the case. My D had her "down" moments, too, freshman year, although overall she had a very good year and was happy to go back. But I guess it's part of growing up -- learning to deal with the difficult times.

Good luck to him -- let us know how he's doing.

By Cyclingdad (Cyclingdad) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 11:07 am: Edit

Just want to add that colleges have counseling centers that may help, and certainly should be used when appropriate. And thanks for your comments here and elsewhere, neighbor Rhonda.

By Sac (Sac) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 11:54 am: Edit

I have exactly the same sense about my S though he hasn't said it outright. His voice is kinda flat. Scared about the work and being able to ace it as he did in high school. Not sure who his close friends will be. But I think instant messaging helps. He's on with friends still at high school and friends at other colleges. Some of them are bound to be in the same stage and, even though they're far away, can still respond and make him feel as if he has friends.

By Wjb (Wjb) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 12:05 pm: Edit

Reading this thread is so reassuring! I was beginning to feel as if my daughter was the only kid experiencing a period of adjustment. She likes her roommate and her classes, and is beginning to make friends and get involved in some activities, but college is still a huge transition.

One of the issues she's struggling with is the inability to find solitude for brief periods. She has a lovely roommate, but is still missing that alone-with-herself time. She's at a small LAC, where the ability to temporarily lose oneself in the crowd is slim. A friend who attended a LAC years ago suggested swimming laps in the college pool, which I think sounds like a great idea. Anyone else's kids having this issue?

By Momstheword (Momstheword) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 12:51 pm: Edit

I hope things smooth out quickly for your kids who are adjusting. One of the most useful things my kids' high school staff did was to send the parents a very insightful newsletter about the first-year college experience, so it gave us a heads-up and allowed us to discuss it with the kids over the summer before they took off. The newspletter detailed the adjustment phase, how especially kids in their first-choice colleges need to come to terms with the insecurity that comes with not being at the top of the heap, and the disillusionment that the gritty reality of college life is different than the rose-colored vision they had, etc. I do think it helps a bit to be prepared for these aspects so the parents can help the students realize it's not specific to their situation, but a general phase. The newsletter gave suggestions about joining study groups, participating in an extracurricular, no matter how minimal, and taking a writing class so there's feedback, among other things. Sometimes when my D phones home says something related to adjustment, I can remind her of the newsletter, reassure her that she's right on schedule in terms of adjusting, and ask her what her plan of action will be. This approach seems to work for her.

By Dadofsam (Dadofsam) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 04:34 pm: Edit

I don't know whether these are "words of wisdom", but I certainly can relate to this. I graduated ninth grade as one of the top students in my school (an excellent school at the time), went to a selective academic high school where everyone was smart (I was no longer at the top but still in the top 25%) and went to a fine college where after four years I was at most an average student.

Somewhere in that time period, one sorts out the fact that being a top student isn't all there is to one's nature, and that all the smart people cannot be at the top of the class. I was able to begin learning that in high school (although I'm sure I didn't really appreciate it at the time), but most good students learn it in college or later.

Meanwhile, your S is at the stage where there are not only a lot more complicating factors in his life (there's nobody around but him to do his laundry, feed himself, etc.) but a huge number of new opportunities to take part in (probably 100-200 clubs, drama/music groups, etc., not to mention many more regularly scheduled sports and intramurals, not to mention pickup games). When I started college, because of encouragement from my dorm-mates (all of whom were as new as I was), I got into some entirely new activities, in which I had a great time in college (and made some good friends). My S, who also has just started college, came back from the freshman "activity fair" with a couple of things to do that neither DW nor I had ever thought of.

Probably your S'll soon be too busy to think about these changes much, even while he's going though them.

By Koolgorl (Koolgorl) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 12:00 pm: Edit

Thanks for all the reassurances and sharings. I feel better and am reasonably assured that S will too. Sometimes I think I mostly get the "down" calls, when everything is going great he's too busy and happy to call. Letting go is harder for me than I realized it would be too and that plays into my worries I'm sure.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 01:38 pm: Edit

Koolgorl -- you sound a lot like me when D left last year. I think you are right to feel that your S will feel better, and also that you may be getting the "down stuff" only. He may also be, like my D, NOT a phone person. I know my D doesn't like talking on the phones, really doesn't talk at length with friends either (just quick "where are you" or "what time should we meet" calls). I found that when I visited her on parents' weekend in Oct last year, she was much more at home and much happier than I would have guessed from our conversations. I think she just wanted to get off the phone a lot of the time.

This is one reason that on another thread I made a negative comment about people "bragging" (sorry, can't think of a more neutral word) about their freshman kids who call all the time. Since mine is a soph now, I have no problem with her rarely calling, but I know that LAST year at this time, I would have wondered "is she happy? why isn't she calling to rave about how happy she is like these other kids?." It might be that I'm just a worrier (I definitely am).

I just wanted you to know that I understand how you are feeling (it is very hard letting go, and I don't think any of us can really steel ourselves for it completely). If we had our way, our kids wouldn't have a single moment of unhappiness! (isn't that realistic!)

By Wjb (Wjb) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 03:39 pm: Edit

Koolgorl --

Re "down" phone calls: I think we get them because our kids need to vent, and who better to vent to than mom (or dad)? The problem is probably especially acute at the beginning of the college adventure, as new relationships are just that, new, and our kids can't vent to their new friends. Sometimes I think just the act of venting to me helps my daughter get rid of her anxiety, or at least put some perspective on it. I'm glad she wants to talk to me. (In fact, I sometimes feel that we talk more now, from a distance of 800 miles,than when she was living at home!)

By Achat (Achat) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 03:43 pm: Edit

We were told at the orientation to not make much of the late-night "downer" calls from our kids. They tend to vent when calling home and then immediately feel better while us parents are left thinking the world is coming to an end! They will only say something when it bothers them and when things that go well, they tend to not communicate.

My son has been complaining about the quality of food at his college. Looking at the online menu, I wonder why, it looks fine to me. And the most amazing thing of all, he misses home food. He's been telling me for the last 18 years how horribly I cook, and now he misses home food!

By Megsdad (Megsdad) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 04:16 pm: Edit

I was one of those parents that Rhonda was complaining about "bragging." So far our daughter has had a very positive experience. I had mentioned in my post that I fully expected her to have "down" periods just as she did in high school and we would be there for her during these times as well.
When a child is taken 900 miles away from home to a completely different environment (going from the deep south to New England) and dropped off, knowing she will not be home until November, it can cause some apprehension.
My wife and I were so pleased that she dove in and found a church, a Bible fellowship group, was involved in several extra-curricular activities that kept her physically busy, and was loving her classes. We were glad that she wasn't totally unhappy. As I said we expect there will be some phone calls from her expressing anxiety, but
I am thankful she has a solid foundation from home and is making new friends at Wellesley too.
Sorry if you took that as bragging, if it had been a gloomy picture, I would have reported that too.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 04:31 pm: Edit

It's okay, Megsdad.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 06:18 pm: Edit

Yes, of course it's OK. I know I didn't state my position very artfully, mainly because I didn't take the time and couldn't really figure out a more tactful way of saying what I meant.

I apologize if I offended anyone.

Achat -- I also thought the online menu at Brown always looked great, but my D complained about the food all year! Apparently there were certain things that were just so unappetizing that one could not even THINK about trying them!

By Sac (Sac) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 11:15 pm: Edit

About the "down" calls -- that's pretty much all I've been getting from my son. Today, my daughter called me and asked why I sounded so down myself. I told her about the latest call and she started laughing. She said she'd called her brother on the weekend and he sounded "on top the world" and said everything was "great." When she told him he only called home with a complaint, he acknowledged that was true.

So, it's good they have a place to gripe without driving away their new friends. And, if you have other kids, get THEM to call their sibbling for the true story!

By Over30 (Over30) on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 01:23 am: Edit

Mine seems to be a little overwhelmed, but I think it's mostly from the amount and difficulty of his classes and homework. He hasn't had much time to find other activities yet. (I'm sure he's also missing his girlfriend just a little.) But I have a surefire cure for homesickness. I know just what to say or questions to ask that will really annoy him. So, I just ask each and every one of them, multiple times if necessary, until he's thrilled to be 1,500 miles from home!

On a more serious note, I'm just glad that he feels comfortable talking to us. And I'm really glad he set up an IM account for me before he left. What a great invention

By Megsdad (Megsdad) on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 08:20 am: Edit

I'd like to share this tidbit from yesterday...
Our daughter finished her first paper for an English Poety class. In high school her work was always considered the best of the best. The professor at Wellesley had the girls make two copies of their papers and trade them off with other young women in their groups. My daughter read these other papers and was blown away by their content. I told her (smiling), "welcome to the world of a highly selective school!"
So you see... it isn't all wine and roses!!!

By Dadofsam (Dadofsam) on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 12:51 pm: Edit

"They will only say something when it bothers them and when things that go well, they tend to not communicate."

Great post, Achat. I have been having the same experience. Talked to S yesterday - how was this, how was that? Everything's fine, Dad, FINE! OK? (I do sort of wish that he would call to vent a bit)

But then he remembered that he aced his first quiz! What ho! Change of excitement level.

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