A Helicopter Parent’s Guide to a Sick College Kid

You sent them off in the fall with ALL the things for all the scenarios. Maybe you even made sure they had a flu emergency kit. But when they call home, saying they’re really sick, it’s tough not to put your parenting helicopter in overdrive.

Many college kids will come down with at least one lousy cold in that first year away from home. So, what should you do when you’re not there to heap on the TLC? For one thing, pump the brakes on your chopper and make sure THEY are instrumental in the problem solving.

Here are some tips to help everyone feel better fast.

Get an appointment

Tell them to visit the campus health center or local urgent care center, or try virtual visits with your family doctor.

Register ahead of time

Ideally, have your student register with the campus health center before they get sick. This can be one of those good “adulting” activities that you make them do. Because who wants to fill out paperwork when they feel like death?

Cold & flu kit

Ah yes, that handy kit you gave them in the fall (or maybe not). No worries, it’s probably buried on their dorm desk anyway. Send them a care package with things like vitamin C, zinc, Emergen-C, cold medications, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, a couple cans of chicken soup, hand sanitizer, and some of those soft, lotion-y tissues. Or, make it easy and order a get-well kit from amazon.

Get your shots

Have them get a flu shot (ideally in the fall) and make sure your student is up-to-date on immunizations. Flu shots are usually free through the college campus health center.

Self-care for the win

Remind your student about self-care: Get lots of sleep. Eat right. Exercise at the student recreation center. Wash your hands!

Mental health

If they’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, have them visit the campus health center for counseling. They can also text 741741 to the national 24/7 crisis line.

Doctor’s note

If they’re sick enough that they may miss a few days of classes, have them ask for a doctor’s note to give to their professors.

RA to the rescue

Have them let the resident advisor (RA) know they’re sick and the RA can check in on them.

Get eyes on them

Video chats can make all the difference in knowing just how sick your student might be. Sometimes seeing them can be reassuring that it’s just a cold or that they really are sick and need to see a doctor right away.

Homesickness

Many first-year students feel that other kind of sick – homesick. It’s usually short-lived and typically occurs within the first month or so of being away at school. Suddenly having to “adult” and make independent decisions is sometimes just plain overwhelming. Encourage your student to reach out to others who are feeling the same way. Remind them that staying on campus on the weekend helps with down time and is a chance to make new friends. Be a trusted adviser and good listener – sometimes they just need to talk it through and be heard.

The best advice I heard at a college parent orientation session was that when your student calls you with a problem, don’t solve it for them. Easier said than done, but don’t give them the answer. Instead, ask: What do YOU think you should do? They’ll most likely have the answer and may just need a little reassurance that they’re on the right track.

So, hang tough, helicopter parents – you got this, and with time you’ll find that they do, too.

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Christine Harris

Veteran healthcare communicator. Seeker of all things vintage. Mom of two boys. Food bank volunteer. Small town girl from a huge family - seven of nine. I’ve heard that’s a Star Trek character.



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