How can I support my child at university?

Going to university is often exciting but scary. The first few weeks are about making new friends, the first lectures and getting to know their new hometown.

While it’s usually a positive experience, your child may face some challenges while they adjust to their new life. But you can support your child’s mental health and wellbeing at university, even from a distance.

Keep in touch

  • Try and keep in regular contact by video chat or messaging. Receiving letters or care packages can be a huge boost so have a think about what home comforts you can send them to enjoy.
  • Talk to your child about things that they think will help them relax and de-stress. If they can’t think of anything, suggest mindfulness or meditation apps, getting outside for a walk, eating healthily, keeping to a routine where possible. You’re looking to help them work out what they think might make them feel better in themselves. You can read more tips for helping your child when they feel anxious.
  • Practice active listening with your child. Really pay attention when they talk about how they feel and make sure to validate their feelings. Don’t say things like “I’m sure you will feel better in the morning” or “You just need to get on with it”, as this is unlikely to be helpful to them.
  • Help them to recognise if they’re having anxious and stressful feelings. This could be lack of motivation in studying, not wanting to socialise, nail biting/picking, stomach issues and help them listen to their bodies.

Let them know they're supported

  • Get a steer from your child about how often they would like to chat to you, and follow their lead.
  • If your child seems to be finding things difficult, encourage them to reach out to student welfare. Some universities have a Nightline service. Or let them know about services such as Kooth and The Mix, which offer online chats with counsellors.
  • Let your child know it’s OK to call you at any time, even in the middle of the night. Reassuring them that you are there for them, no matter what, is really important.
  • Encourage them to register with the local GP.

Concerned about their mental health

  • If you have concerns about your child’s mental health while they are at university suggest having a regular time to check in each day. It can be as small as a WhatsApp message or a call, whatever works for them. You may have to be flexible depending on what they feel comfortable with.
  • Put a safety plan in place with your child. Look at who they can contact on site and by phone when in distress. Is there someone they live with they trust and can turn to? Can they give your number to that trusted person so they can call you if your child feels unable to?
  • If you’re really worried, let them know that if you don’t hear from them you will call the university to do a welfare check.
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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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