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How Parents can Help College Students find Value in their Mistakes

September 09, 2015
Content how parents can help students value mistakes

How Parents can Help College Students find Value in their Mistakes

Take a newly minted adult. Now, add a new location, new responsibilities, temptations, freedom, and a desire for independence. This is the formula for the life of a college student. There are many great things that can come from this formula. These include, developing new interests, making new friends, becoming an adult, and learning more about themselves. Unfortunately, this is also the inevitable formula for making some really big mistakes. The challenge for parents is to help students deal with their mistakes and walk away from each mistake having learned or accomplished something positive. For parents, this can be much more difficult than it seems. Some parents tend to react to mistakes more harshly than they should, while others cave to the temptation to rescue and fix. In reality, both solutions can be appropriate. However, in most cases, the best way to help a college student deal with a mistake lies somewhere in-between. Here are a few things that parents can do to help their college kids deal with and learn from their mistakes.

Don't make your Child's Mistakes about  You

College students make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are colossally bone-headed. Sometimes those mistakes have long-term consequences. Sometimes those mistakes affect you. It is okay to be upset, embarrassed, frustrated, and angry. However, at the end of the day, as the parent it is your job to help your child through whatever issue is facing them. You cannot do this, if you...

  • Are worried about what the neighbors think
  • Are focused on how the issue impacts you
  • Are assuming that your child made this mistake to punish you or make you suffer in some way

You also cannot do this if you...

  • Are so wracked with guilt that you cannot be constructive
  • Feel a need to make a martyr of yourself for your child
  • Bend over backwards to show the world how supportive you are

Be Aware of the Following Words: Don't come to me if you...

Parents need to be aware that these words are very effective. Unfortunately, they are not effective in preventing whatever behavior is so verboten. Instead, these words are effective in preventing  your child from coming to you. Remember that it is possible to send your child a message that you are strongly against certain behaviors without indicating to them that they risk your rejection.

Encourage your College Student to Find Something Positive

No young adult is going to learn from a situation if they cannot take something positive away. So, take some time to figure out what your child did right. Did they come to you for help before a situation got out of control? Did they accept consequences in order to do the right thing? Have they managed to set a plan into action to make sure that they do not make the same mistake again? If so, this is what you should tell them to focus on.

Sometimes it is Okay to Rescue Them

If your child is overwhelmed, traumatized, and hurting, there is nothing wrong with doing what it takes to make them whole again. If you are dealing with a child who makes a minor, uncharacteristic mistake, it is okay to give them a one time only get out of jail free card. Remember that there is nothing wrong with modeling empathy and compassion to your child.

Sometimes it is Okay to Leave them to Figure things out for Themselves

There are times when the biggest favor a  parent can do is to step back and allow their child to deal with the consequences of their actions and to find a solution for themselves. This is a great solution for an unappreciative child who feels entitled to whatever resources mom or dad might need to dole out to rescue them. This can also be a great solution for a young adult who needs to become more confident in their own abilities.

Leaving a child to figure things out for themselves is a huge challenge for many parents. If you are a parent in this position, remember that there is nothing wrong with offering encouragement and reassurance while demanding your child stands on their own two feet.

Remember that Outside help is Available

Even when things are going smoothly, the college years can be hard to navigate. It can be easy for students and their parents to feel isolated and alone. Please remember that students and their parents have access to social services, mental health support, and even tutoring. There is no shame in reaching out for that help. In fact, this objective help can be so valuable for college students and their parents. Whatever mistakes a student makes, they should never be made to feel as if they are alone.