The Montfort Group

4 Strategies for Supporting Your College Student During COVID-19

Here’s a secret. Therapists, much like parents, aren’t supposed to have favorites. We’re supposed to feel equally energized to work with everyone, right? I’m going to break a rule. I’m going to do a big no-no. I’m just going to come out and say that one of my favorite groups to work with are emerging adults, and I’ve written about them HERE and HERE just to name a few spaces. Yup. I said it. They’re my favorite.

Young adulthood is a messy, difficult, and complicated time, so allow me to shed light on why this group is so fascinating to work with. Emerging adults are in the 18 to 25-year-old age bracket, and they are an exciting group to work with because they are on the brink of a whirlwind of change. Building relationship skills, creating a career path, developing introspection, and of course, navigating college are common themes for emerging adults.

As a university counselor, I’m noticing that college-aged clients are calling about the stress of living at home as much as they are calling us about the stress of COVID-19. You see, when universities closed, many students were only given a matter of days to make really big and difficult decisions. Some have not returned to their campuses since spring break. They quickly transitioned to online learning. They are recalibrating their expectations of the semester and adjusting to living at home with their families all over again. They are grieving the loss of the very spaces they worked so hard to adjust to. Students are struggling with a laundry list of concerns now, so here are some considerations to make when supporting your college student during COVID 19.


While online learning is ideal for many, it can also be a disorienting transition from attending face-to-face classes at designated times during the week. Help your student map out their new academic work week. Encourage them to pick consistent times for waking up and going to bed, block out times for schoolwork and studying, and reserve hours for leisure, exercise, and catching up with friends. The beauty of college is that students have now had the opportunity to learn more about what works for them, so collaborate with them to come up with a repeatable plan for success. 


Family walks, exercising, cooking, fresh air, and good sleep hygiene are all ways to boost mood while fostering a healthy lifestyle. Try to avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol, as boredom and depression can exacerbate substance use, which can develop into unhealthy habits. There is no evidence, and louder for the people in the back, there is no evidence to support that drinking with your underage child leads to healthier alcohol use!  In fact, the World Health Organization maintains that the opposite is true. Drinking with minors tends to lead to long-term problematic alcohol use later in life.

Some students may also be coping with the loss of their relationship with their on-campus counselors, mentors, and academic advisors, so this may be a good time to help them re-engage with therapy.


Encourage your college student to follow the quarantine protocols in your community and maintain social distancing, as difficult as it may be. Have meaningful conversations about the dangers of spreading the virus and encourage a sense of self-efficacy and responsibility by discussing ways they can make a difference in the community. For instance, local school districts, non-profits, and shelters need canned foods delivered now more than ever. There may also be opportunities for tutoring children, as most local schools have closed for the semester. Encourage your college student to take control of their own behaviors. While some young people are facing backlash for gathering during COVID, many are problem-solving in smart, creative ways!


This serves as an excellent opportunity for teaching our college students to deal with disappointment and effectively cope with grief. Our seniors, for instance, are facing massive uncertainty about the job market and career opportunities. To bring it a little closer to the present, they are also dealing with the loss of their graduation ceremonies, an event which many have looked forward to since the beginning of freshman year. Offer empathy and support. Avoid sentences that start with the words “At least…” Give them the space and time to express everything they are feeling. 

Some students are dealing with the loss of on-campus jobs, friendships, study abroad adventures, dorm communities, and seeing their inspiring professors. In other words, they lost their “home away from home”. Validation and empathy will go a long way. We possess complex feelings, and we can hold both sadness and gratitude.

Distinguish Hand Holding from Collaboration

I want to name that there is a big difference between doing for and doing with. Some may read these recommendations and think “this is way too involved” and same may say “this just isn’t enough”. At the end of the day, remember that you know your student best. This is a hard time for everyone and helping create an environment in which they will thrive is part of being a kind, attentive family member, let alone a parent. This might be the collectivist streak in my personality, but I believe personally and professionally that everyone needs support, and our college students are no different. I could share the line about teaching a man to fish, but I will refrain.

Many parents will default to the K-12 parenting they utilized before college, simply because it feels natural and automatic. It is important to work on building a new relationship with your now adult child—one that is focused on their own vision for their future. This is the time for meaningful conversations about adulthood, relationships, and career. Continue to impart wisdom. Make recommendations. Share keen observations. However, the more you allow them to make decisions for themselves, the more they will be equipped for the road ahead. 

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