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What's Your Parenting Approach?

What does your approach convey to your student?


Consider some of the parenting approaches that follow and think about prior transitions and challenges that your student has experienced. Recall which approaches you used in communicating with your student and think about whether you might have been able to choose a different approach that would have provided your student with enhanced skills and competencies to navigate future situations.

Rescue Approach:

You hear yourself frequently say to your student, “I’ll handle/call/contact/do…for you.”

You have been known to schedule your student’s appointments, even though he or she is capable of doing so.

You manage situations pertaining to your student even though you know you don’t really need to; it just seems easier or more efficient.

Consequences of using the Rescue Approach: This approach denies your student opportunities to gain skills and reduces his or her degree of confidence in handling situations. It can also convey that you don’t think your student is capable of being independent in his or her thoughts or actions.

Considerations for using the Rescue Approach: If your student has had a traumatic experience or is in danger, then stepping in and handling a situation, at least initially, is a necessary action. You can ease away from the Rescue Approach by giving your student low-risk tasks and situations to manage, strengthening his or her confidence and competencies.

Unsolicited Advice Approach:

You have heard yourself say on multiple occasions, “You really should …”

You find that you offer immediate input or solutions whether or not you are asked.

You talk more than listen.

Consequences of using the Unsolicited Advice Approach: Your student will think that you don’t trust his or her judgment or knowledge about how things can be accomplished. This is especially true if you don’t first take time to learn what he or she might already know. Some students can get in the habit of regularly deferring to their parents’ advice so they don’t have to exert too much energy figuring things out on their own. Students who are accustomed to interacting with an advice-giver often tune-out as soon as they hear, “You really should …” Additionally, it is hard to take ownership of successes and failures when someone else has been telling you what to do.

Considerations for using the Unsolicited Advice Approach: This approach can be adapted in a couple of different ways to yield positive outcomes. You can ask your student if he or she would like your input. You can offer to think together to weigh options. Thinking together effectively keeps a line of communication open and helps your student to see you as one of many useful resources in his or her environment.

Critic Approach:

When speaking with your student you hear yourself commenting more about what is wrong than what is right.

You find that you focus more on that which is bad than on that which is good or positive.

In general you find it difficult to see the positives that might also accompany negative experiences.

Consequences of using the Critic Approach:  Focusing on the negative leads your student to distance himself or herself from you. This approach may also cause your student to feel greater dissatisfaction about his or her experience, drawing attention to things that initially may not have bothered him or her. Your student might also experience feelings of being inadequate and may limit his or her communication with you. This approach draws attention to all that is negative which produces more negativity and prevents solutions from naturally emerging.

Considerations for using the Critic Approach: This approach can be transformed, provided you can shift your outlook to recognize all that is going well and all that is positive. Students often find it valuable to consider, with a family member, a list of pros and cons about various choices or opportunities. Provided you can engage your student in this type of conversation and listen more than provide input, your student will likely value the opportunity to process options with you.

Worrier Approach:

You have heard yourself adding doubt to your student’s desire to try new things, to experience challenges, and to take appropriate risks.

Your mind races with “But what if…” scenarios.

You gravitate toward all the negative possibilities even though there are many positives too.

Consequences of using the Worrier Approach: Let’s face it – it is difficult to only worry a little bit. Expressing your uncertainties can cause your student to doubt his or her abilities to take on new tasks, challenges or situations. This approach can shut down communication about important issues that your student might want to share, but won’t reveal because he or she doesn’t want to perpetuate your sense of worry.

Considerations for using the Worrier Approach: It is one thing to alert your student to significant situations or important information that he or she might not yet have gathered or considered on his or her own, but quite another to worry so much that it prevents your student from trying something new or from tackling a challenge. Try channeling worry into a discussion about risks and benefits, and learn from your student how well he or she is prepared to handle some of the challenges that exist.

Organizer Approach: 

You often wake your student with a morning call or text to make sure that something occurs or gets done.

You keep a calendar of your student’s assignments even knowing that he or she is capable of managing them.

You set up reminders.

Consequences of using the Organizer Approach: This approach deprives your student of life lessons about personal responsibility and time management that he or she needs to experience before truly being on his or her own. If you protect your student from being late or missing an assignment, then you also prevent him or her from feeling cause and effect. Your student will likely not seek help from campus support services nor develop self-management systems that work for him or her if you continue with this approach.

Considerations for using the Organizer Approach: There are lots of resources at college to support students, and parents can encourage their son or daughter to access campus support services to maximize learning and competencies. Through accessing campus resources your student will also meet peers who are successfully using systems to support their living and learning.

Nuclear Reaction Approach:

You express strong emotions during your conversations with your student and say things you later wish you hadn’t conveyed.

Conversations typically end in anger and situations remain unresolved.

You find out about situations only after they have escalated because your student feared sharing details.

Consequences of using the Nuclear Reaction Approach: This approach can shut down communication and trigger your student to lie, which often makes for bigger problems down the road. This approach conveys to your student that your anger is more important than guiding him or her to solve the problem or to change the situation.

Considerations for using the Nuclear Reaction Approach: Sometimes we are caught by surprise and our emotions can rule our interactions. Unless there is a life-threatening or highly critical situation at hand we always have the choice to say, “Wow, I am a bit surprised, but you know what? I am going to take the night to process what you told me and then we can think together more clearly about your next steps.” This strategy diffuses the intensity of emotions and enables you and your student to move toward exploring productive solutions. When students are most vulnerable the last thing they really need is parental anger and frustration — they are usually very aware that they messed up.

Coach Approach: 

You listen more than you advise.

You find that you prompt your student to think about options and solutions more than solve and fix situations.

You are willing to let your student experience cause and effect.

You see mistakes as a natural part of growth and value conversations about what can be learned or done differently next time.

You are able to extract what is working well even when something might be less than perfect.

Consequences of using the Coach Approach: “You are capable” is the primary message conveyed to your student when implementing this approach. It acknowledges that when he or she falters there are opportunities to think together about options that exist to make things better now and to do things differently in the future.

Considerations for using the Coach Approach:  The Coach Approach is not a quick fix. It requires time to envision different scenarios and to consider options, and sometimes a situation is of the type that initially needs a more immediate response.

We are often on “auto-pilot parenting,” and while we always have choices about how we interact, we don’t always first think about what they might be. It is challenging to step away from old habits and to continue to evolve one’s parenting, yet it is so important to do this during the years that your student attends college.

Success is when the life lessons that visit your student now don’t come knocking again in the future!

Effectively parenting your college student is one part anticipating what he or she needs to successfully navigate life, and another part paving the way for your student to acquire life-experiences that provide skills and perspectives to inform his or her choices and decisions.

Want to read more?

Would you like to gain dozens of strategies and tips to navigate the multitude of challenges and stressful situations that arise when parenting a college student?

Parenting Your College Student: Pairing Freedom and Support provides you with concise, strategy and tip driven content, that you can put to immediate use as you communicate with, and guide, your student during the many challenges and stressful situations that occur during college. It can be read in about 45 minutes and then utilized as a parenting reference guide, reducing worry and stress, and helping you to anticipate and prepare for situations that arise during the college years.

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