It takes about 11 years of schooling and training to become a physician—it takes even longer than that to become a certified Dr. Mom (about 18 years, actually). When your kids were younger, you played the role of Dr. Mom (or Dr. Dad) by taking temperatures and settling upset stomachs. Now that your child’s probably miles away, your responsibilities as Dr. Mom have changed. Caring for your college kid involves more than soothing sore tummies; you have to worry about their overall well-being.
On campus, minor mishaps can become major meltdowns — it’s something all students go through. And from my time in college, I’ve found that unhappiness tends to trend when kids just don’t feel like they’re clicking with their classmates.
Dealing with Loneliness in College
So if your child’s been lonely at college and down in the dumps lately, here could be some reasons why:
• They might not feel like they fit in. To help develop a stronger sense of belonging, they could join new groups and try different activities on campus.
• Maybe they’re feeling isolated. Is your kid a hermit? Have they tried to get to know their professors and classmates? It’s not uncommon for students—even on large campuses—to feel alone if they’ve had trouble opening up.
• Their off-campus job could be creating a disconnect. Gaining experience and earning money for school can come at a price: Students who work off campus twenty-plus hours a week may not have as much opportunity (or time) to develop friendships and enjoy the full college experience.
Now that you‘re aware of the possible reasons that are making your college student unhappy in college, here are some ways you can help:
1.) Assess their problems with them. Help your kid take a full, honest look at their situation and their place in it. “And always remember that when they’re away from home, everything is so exaggerated,” said Dr. Barb.
2.) Get to the root of their troubles. Ask questions to find out if a chronic condition or a one-time issue is making them unhappy.
3.) Encourage self-reflection. Find out what (if anything) they’re currently doing to improve their situation, and give them ideas on how to create an action plan that’ll help empower them.
4.) Remind them you care. Dr. Barb (she’s my Dr. Mom!) has a great suggestion: “The cards and little gift boxes I’d send as a constant reminder of home—and someone caring about them—helped a lot.”
5.) Ask them, ‘What do the happy students do?’ Tell them to observe what satisfied students are doing differently: Do they exhibit positive behaviors that your kid could learn from?
6.) Refer a specialist (if necessary). Seek the help of a specialist if your child is exhibiting these symptoms of depression in college students—because some issues are beyond the power of Dr. Mom.
So there you have it, doc. We hope this helps you help your lonely college kid. Sure, you may not be getting the salary of a family physician—but can you really put a price on your child’s happiness? (And yours too, for that matter!)