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Stage 1 strategies

From the Spring 2006 Parent Newsletter

In the article, “Breaking through the walls of depression and anxiety” (Winter 2006 issue of University Parent), Dr. Scott Slattery suggested that parents of studentswith mood disorders first listen to and make an emotional connection with theirstudents (Stage I) before moving on to helping devise concrete strategies forseeking help (Stage II). Previous issues of University Parent are available at

Since the article was published, parents have asked for practical strategiesfor working through Stage I. Some have asked whether “switching” fromproblem solver to listener might raise questions or confuse a student.

Now online: Mental Health and the College Student Workshop
This fall, the Parent Program hosted a discussion about college students andmental health. The program featured University of Minnesota experts who workexclusively with college-aged students. We taped the program and have postedboth video and audio recordings online for parents to view at their convenience.

Participants addressed issues of particular concern for parents of college-agedstudents, including what types of mental health issues can arise during the collegeyears, what symptoms to be alert to, what help is available, how to access serviceswhen necessary, and how to discuss mental health concerns with your student.

As long as you connect in a spirit of genuine interest and concern, I don’tanticipate the change being an issue. If your student is suspicious, be honestand explain that you are seeking to grow as a parent and that you hope it helpsyour relationship.

The following tips may make a Stage I dialogue, or emotional connection, a littleeasier.

  1. Find a comfortable physical space to talk, one that is relatively free of distractions.
  2. Stay in the here and now. Once the conversation gets started, it is easy to start associating the present conversation to both past events and future ideas. While helpful at some point, these associations can be a barrier to making an emotional connection.
  3. Keep the focus on your student—resist the tendency to relate that you have experienced similar emotions or situations. While exchanging stories is common and works well in social conversations, going into your own stories when serving as a listener shifts the focus of the conversation from your student to yourself.
  4. Allow your student to tell his or her story. Be curious and seek clarification and details, keeping in mind the questions reporters ask their subjects (who, what, when, where, how, with whom, how often, etc.).
  5. Be an active listener by conveying that you have truly heard what was said. Using the reflecting (or “call-and-respond”) technique lets a speaker know their listener is present with them in the here-and-now. It goes something like this:
    • Person A: “While classes are stressing me in general, calculus is giving me the most trouble.”
    • Person B: “So classes are stressing you out—especially calculus.”
    Your response doesn’t have to be deep or insightful, its purpose is just to let your student know you are paying attention.
  6. Ask your student what would be helpful from you as a listener. Don’t presume to know. For example, some students prefer frequent reflection, while others prefer to be listened to without interruption.


The listening or emotional connection stage of dealing with a student’sdepression or anxiety is often difficult for parents. You may feel like you’redoing nothing and want to get on to making plans, offering advice, and findingsolutions. But be patient and stay the course—connections cultivated inStage I are the foundation upon which successful Stage II strategies are built.