Parent Blog: Stella – Ongoing Support

Friday 14th December 2018

Stella has two daughters who both have degrees, one of which progressed via A levels onto University and the second completed an Open University degree after originally completing BTEC and A level qualifications.

One of the hardest things for any parent to do is to gradually ‘let go’ of their child as I know all too well.  Even when our first child started full time in her Infants class there were many times when I just wanted to go in there and take her home with me; why should they have her?  Of course, I realised I was being silly but you cannot and should not ignore your natural emotions although you have to learn to control them.  The same happened with our second child who I found myself talking to in the car even though she was at Nursery.  I realised I needed a plan to do something else.  I didn’t want to go back to work until our 2nd daughter started school so I went home and stripped off all the wallpaper in the porch and got stuck in.  Both came home happy, excited and talking of friends they’d made, which made me happy too; they loved school.

The same pattern has continued to repeat itself.  Going to Secondary School, College and 6th Form, boyfriends [suitable and unsuitable] getting a job, leaving home to go to university, getting married etc.  Your roles and responsibilities don’t end, but they do change.  It’s an in-built parental instinct to be responsible for your child, to love, nurture and provide them with the skills and resilience to become an independent adult.   That’s the job description.

Try to avoid being one of todays ‘helicopter parents’ who will go to the extremes of micro managing every aspect of their child’s university education.  At 18 they are an adult; can drive, smoke, drink and get married.  University is a different stage of education and parents are not going to be phoned with progress updates all the time by tutors as they may have been in school.   However, parental support is key both before, during and after the course.  It maybe you adopt the view of Steve West, vice chancellor of the University of West England and a father of 5. Who, in a recent article in The Guardian [1] said, “Parents whose offspring have started university must learn to listen from afar without judging…”

At a mere 18, for many, leaving home for University life appears a massive step, and it is, but between parents and school your child will have developed many, but by no means all, of the life skills to needed cope.  When you visit Open Days, it is reassuring to find out about what is on offer in terms of support regarding wellbeing and physical and mental health and have discussed how and where to seek help and support should they require it.  Universities are strong on this now and it is useful to make a list of numbers and email addresses you too could contact if you were worried.  Parents do need reassurance.

A good way of helping your daughter/son is to, before they set out, together draw up a checklist of skills needed in order to support University entry. Include, budgeting, banking, bills, National Insurance, tax [many students work part time to fund their courses], living with others, cooking, cleaning and washing skills. Shopping, how to live within their budget and money saving tips all are essential life skills as are how and where to register with a doctor and dentist. Where to seek help when it is needed.  Why wouldn’t a parent ensure these boxes were ticked before entry?  Most universities have dedicated areas on their website to support students and staff specifically employed to support physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Your child needs to be equipped with the knowledge as to how and where to seek help as you might be the last person they tell even if you are in regular contact.  Maybe consider setting a specific time to ring, text or skype, [you can see how they are looking] setting some ground rules may help both sides.

Recently, some institutions have made a conscious effort to include parents as part of the ‘university Team’.  Sheffield Hallam’s Parent Ambassador scheme can help parents through discussion at open days.  Ambassadors are parents who have been through experience of their child going to University.  Similarly, Student Ambassadors are there to help students throughout the year as well as personal tutors and mentors.  Security staff 24/7 and concierge in halls of residence are available and monitor students.

Having said this some students, as with our own daughter, needed support in terms of encouragement to keep going, to know that she was doing well and she wanted to let us know how she was doing as she knew this would be important for us.  We acted as ‘an emotional cheerleader’ as described by Jacqueline Stevenson, [Head of Research at Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Education] looked at student in her own university and those at the University of Sheffield and her study [2] recently found many students in fact still had very close contact with their parents who acted as sort of ‘one to one mentor’ and did not feel ‘smothered’ by this. Universities do perhaps need to work even harder at identifying those who are not receiving some support and are struggling and act accordingly.

It’s a question of striking a personal balance within your own family.


[1] Don’t make Their GP appointments, don’t manage their money – universities advice to helicopter parents by Anna Fazackerley 20th November 2018 The Guardian newspaper.

[2] Jaqueline Stevenson, Head of Research at Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Education.

Parents Ongoing Support