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5 Strategies for Talking to Concerned Families

As the end of the year nears, it's hard to remember what life was like prior to the pandemic. There's no doubt higher education staff have been under a tremendous amount of stress tackling a new type of school year during an unprecedented time. 

Housing staff are often used to wearing many hats, juggling several different problems at once, and hearing more concerns than usual from families. 

GradGuard spoke with a former associate director of student housing for insight on how to tackle some of these worries. 

Listen to their concerns

This sounds simple, but it's really important. Utilize your top notch higher ed listening skills by repeating what parents are saying to you, not just nodding your head and saying “everything will be fine.” Listen to what they’re actually saying, and give them examples of how you’re going to help them in these situations.

Before the pandemic, one of the most common questions parents had for housing staff was about roommates. This situation gives a prime example of knowing how to listen to what the parent is truly concerned about in this situation.

When they say: What if my child and their roommate didn't get along?

They might really mean: I want to make sure my child is making friends and enjoying the college experience. What are you doing to help?

Read between the lines and try to understand what they’re really concerned about and asking. 

Connect with the student

A lot of the time, when parents are quite alarmed about something, the student is not. But at some point during their transition to college, it’s probably going to become more of a concern. Connecting with the student shows the parent that you’re actually making a connection with their child and are working on their concern. And doing so enables you to be a recognizable resource to both the student and family. 

Remembering names and faces creates a human connection and an overall more memorable experience. 

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Share your office contact information

If the parent is still uneasy about something, even after trying the first two suggestions, give your contact information. Inviting them to contact you through your direct office phone number and email address will further show you're doing everything you can to ease any worries they may have. 

It's important to know this doesn't mean give them your personal number and urge them to call or text you 24/7. 

List on and off-campus resources

Provide a list of the many resources that are available to college students and families. Some of these may include campus safety, student escort services, and safety-focused apps. These resources may go underutilized by students simply because they aren't aware they exist. But they're good to know of in case of an emergency.

Parents will want to know their children are well-equipped to handle a dangerous situation, should one arise. Be a champion by telling them about some of the many apps that exist for this very reason.

  • LiveSafe
  • Kitestring
  • bSafe
  • One Scream
  • Kinetic Global

Explain how the housing staff model works

Explain how housing staffing model works at your university and why it’s in place. It's important for parents to understand how everything works and to debunk any structure they think is in place. Things have changed since parents were in college, and they may have an idea of what's happening in college based on how it's portrayed in television or movies. 

Explaining why there are people in certain housing roles, and what their position is to help students out, will help parents direct their concerns to the proper channel.

Here's an example of what your school's housing model might look like:

  • Resident Assistant
  • Hall Director
  • Assistant Director
  • Housing Director

You can help assure parents that their student isn't completely alone in college, there are people to help them out, if needed.

Strategies for Talking to Concerned Families Takeaways

Talking to concerned families isn't new. In fact, it's probably going to be a task for higher ed professionals for the foreseeable future. And even though dealing with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic may make it seem like things are completely different, going back to basics, such as just listening, can go a long way in easing some parental worries.