Master the Melt Down

Be Prepared For the “Meltdown” Phone Call

It’s three weeks into your college freshman’s first semester and you get the phone call.   Your phone rings at 2:00 a.m. and your student is in total meltdown mode.  He hates school, is overwhelmed academically, he has no friends, the food stinks, etc.  College was an epic mistake.  Parent panic mode sets in.  You should have made him stay home and commute to a local college.  He should have taken a year off before jumping in to a major university.  You are ready to leave home immediately, drive to Huntington and collect him and his things.  You are up half of the night worrying about him.

Hold the phone…you are NOT alone!  This phone call is normal.  Parents all over the world are receiving the same call.  We want you to be prepared for that call, even if it never comes.  Here are suggestions on how to handle a miserable college freshman:

  • Don’t panic.
    Remember that this is a normal phase in the adjustment to college. While it may not happen for every student, or will happen to differing degrees for different students, once the initial “honeymoon” phase is over, many students go through a period of adjustment to the reality of college life.
  • Listen.
    It is possible that all your student really needs is a sympathetic ear.  She knows that you are her home base and her foundation and that she can count on you. She may just need to vent. Let her talk it out. As difficult as it may be, just listen.
  • Remain calm.
    No matter what your student is telling you, no matter how upset your student may be, she needs you to be calm right now. She needs you to be the strong one. Don’t escalate the situation or her feelings. No matter what your emotions may be doing at this moment, try to stay calm and be a neutralizing force.
  • Empathize and support your student.
    Let him know that you understand what he is telling you. Let him know that you are there and will continue to be there no matter what. He knows this, but he may need to hear it again right now.
  • Don’t trivialize what your student is telling you.
    As you think about how to respond to your student, don’t try to make her feel better by trivializing what she is telling you.  “I’m sure it can’t be that bad,” may sound helpful on the surface, but you are telling her that her feelings or reactions are wrong and out of proportion to the situation. Right now things may be that bad for her.  Validate what she is feeling.
  • Try to determine the exact problem.
    Is her dissatisfaction general (with everything having to do with college), or is there a specific issue that is upsetting her? Ask her to try to tell you exactly what the problem is. In trying to describe it, she may realize that it is one specific issue – and then together you may be able to come up with a solution for that issue. Or as she describes a specific issue in detail she may discover for herself that it really isn’t as big an issue as it seemed.
  • Don’t jump in to rescue your student.
    As parents, our natural tendency is to want to fix things and make everything better for our child. Remember that self-confidence and independence are important goals for your college student. Although he may be asking you for help, the help that your student needs right now is probably not for you to head to school or pick up the phone to make it all better. Resist the impulse to take charge and encourage your student to advocate on his own behalf.
  • Ask your student what can be done to make the situation better.
    If she has been able to describe the problem specifically, she may be able to begin to think about how it can be fixed. If she is worried about having no friends, ask her to brainstorm with you some ideas about how to meet some new people, or how to find others with similar interests. If she is worried about her schoolwork, ask whether it is a specific class or all classes. Ask about academic support services or whether there is a student in class who   can help. Remember, Marshall offers free tutoring to ALL students and there are study rooms with computers available 24 hours a day, located in Drinko library.
  • Help him develop an action plan.
    Don’t let your student feel like a victim at the mercy of the situation. Help him think about specific things that he can do once he hangs up the phone. He may be able to work toward fixing the problem, or at least he may be able to think about how he will cope with his feelings right now.
  • Suggest that your student sleep on it
    Talk to you again tomorrow or in a couple of days.  Often, as parents, we lie awake all night worrying, while our student goes to sleep and then moves on the next morning while we are still worrying.  Things may look very different in the light of day. Don’t dismiss the problem, but ask your student to give it time and then talk to you about it again later.
  • Encourage her to make use of help that is available on campus.
    Has she explored help from her residence assistant, the counseling center, the tutoring center, the student activities office, her advisor or a sympathetic professor?
  • Be positive.
    Continue to speak positively about the college and the college experience.  Let your student know that you understand her feelings, but that overall the college is a good place and the experience of being at college is important and is good for most students. Don’t buy in to her negativity.  Your response and your attitude will send an important message to your student.

This phone call is going to be difficult for you and your student.  Remember, you can ALWAYS call or email Vanessa Myers, the Director of Parent Resources, to discuss the problem and find out what resources are available.   We encourage you to empower your student to act on his or her own behalf.  We can put the resources in your hands, so you can give your student the power to take action.


This post was adapted from, a great online resource for parents.