Having a student head off to university is a major milestone in the life of a family. It can be especially overwhelming when parents/guardians feel unsure of their student’s access to needed mental health resources. The Center for Counseling and Wellness exists as the hub for mental health services at Calvin University, and we are here to help your student navigate the emotional complexities of university life.

Counseling & Wellness services are free for all Calvin students, encompassing a wide range of resources. All services utilize a strengths-based model, building on the inherent resources of each individual. Workshops, groups, seminars and online tools help students grow in resilience and coping abilities. Individual counseling is available on a short-term, one-session-at-a-time basis for students who are experiencing significant depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns. For students seeking specialized or intensive services, customized referrals can be made to off-campus providers who are skilled in working with university students.

Because we recognize the complexities of parenting university students, we have assembled some resources to guide parents/guardians in understanding their students' emotional needs during the university years. If you have remaining questions, please feel free to reach out directly to Counseling & Wellness.


  • How do I bring up the topic of mental health and wellness with my student?

    The best way to promote openness and honesty on the topic of mental health is to be open about your firsthand experiences with mental wellness and self-care. Offer your student examples of ways that you care for your own mental health (ex. exercise, sleep, counseling), particularly during times of struggle. Then ask what they do to take care of themselves.

    This is a stressful time, full of multiple pressures, so you want your student to understand the necessity of prioritizing their mental health in the midst of the busyness. Avoid guilting or shaming your student if they are not demonstrating healthy self-care practices, but remind them that to fully thrive, these practices are important.

  • What are some important topics to talk to my student about?

    Before your student leaves for university, take time to teach them how to do laundry, manage finances, and set up appointments. If they take medications, support them in setting up systems for managing those medications and maintaining consistent doctor’s appointments. It’s also important to talk about topics like being a roommate, managing stress, creating and maintaining a daily schedule and keeping commitments to a sustainable level. Having these conversations at home can ease the transition to university.

    It’s also important to talk to your student about sex, pornography, and substance use, showing that you are not naïve about the choices encountered by university students and other emerging adults. Even if your student doesn’t agree with your viewpoints on these topics, demonstrate that you are open to talking about them in a non-shaming and non-judgmental manner. Be honest and reflective about your own history with these topics without romanticizing or oversimplifying your experience. Ask questions, and listen intently without trying to change your student’s answers. An open and curious attitude will lay the groundwork for your student to return to these topics with you over time and to grow in their maturity as they grapple with the difficult realities of life.

    Not sure how to approach the big conversations? Don't sweat it – the goal is to keep a natural and supportive tone, so don’t feel like you have to take it all on at once. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

    • “How do you cope when you’re feeling stressed? What coping options are available to you in univeristy?”
    • “What activities do you enjoy doing in your free time? What are your favorite ways to connect with friends?”
    • “How do you handle pressure to drink or to use substances? Where do you choose to put your boundaries when it comes to substance use?”
    • “How would you get out of a situation that makes you feel unsafe, especially when substance use is involved?”
    • “How do you manage the high accessibility of online pornography? How do you think this issue had impacted you and your friends?”
    • “How would you deal with pressure from a partner to increase sexual intimacy in a relationship?”
    • “How do you protect yourself emotionally and physically in an intimate relationship? How do you talk about physical boundaries with a partner?”
    • “What are positive and negative aspects of a sexual relationship?”

  • How do I know if my student's thoughts or behaviors warrant them going to the Center for Counseling and Wellness?

    The Center for Counseling and Wellness utilizes a Stepped Care Model that provides a broad range of resources for students to address a variety of emotional needs and goals. Students do not need to have a mental health diagnosis to receive services from the Center for Counseling & Wellness. All students are welcome to complete an initial screening at Counseling & Wellness, which is the first step in determining if resources through Counseling & Wellness can be a good fit.

    Academic performance, personal relationships and daily behavior can all be negatively impacted by emotional difficulties. The following signs suggest that a student may be struggling with mental health concerns:

    • expressions of overwhelming sadness, anxiety, mistrust or anger
    • changes in sleep, appetite or energy level
    • social withdrawal or isolation
    • relationship problems with family or friends
    • changes in behavior or personal hygiene
    • changes in academic performance or absenteeism in class
    • loss of interest in activities that were previously pleasurable or meaningful
    • physical complaints without a known medical cause
    • unusual repetitive or ritualistic behavior
    • recent traumatic event or loss
    • signs of excessive alcohol and/or drug use
    • talk or reference to suicide (whether direct or indirect)
    • delusional beliefs, or seeing/hearing things that are not there

    If your student is having any of these experiences, it is recommended that they schedule a screening at Counseling & Wellness to discuss support options. While some students will have the ability to engage in self-help resources to strengthen needed coping skills, others will require more intensive services to be successful in the university environment. Services will be tailored by Counseling & Wellness clinicians to the needs of your students, within the scope of services available on and off campus.

  • My student refuses to seek help even though I'm convinced they need it. What can I do?

    It can be a helpless feeling when a student seems to need mental health support but is not open to seeking help. Recognize that you will not be able to force your student to seek help – they will need to come to this in their own time. While this can be a frustrating position as a parent, you do have a role to play – providing accurate information, giving gentle encouragement towards mental health services, instilling hope that resources could be helpful, and providing a supportive listening ear. Avoid making the issue into a power struggle.

    If you have concerns about the mental health of your student, consider reaching out to Residence Life professional staff in their on-campus residence or to the Dean of Students to share your observations. If you have concerns about the immediate safety of your student, do not hesitate to call Campus Safety at (616) 526 3333. The campus has a well-trained team of Mental Health First Responders who will check on your student to ensure safety and connect them with needed resources.

  • If my student seeks help from the Center for Counseling and Wellness, will I know?

    Our confidential treatment setting allows students to feel comfortable and safe while addressing their concerns – all staff at Counseling & Wellness are legally and ethically mandated to maintain client confidentiality. As a result, families are not provided with counseling information unless their student has provided written consent. We want you to know that we value your relationship with your student and are committed to providing them with quality care.

    Parents who are looking for information on campus resources for their student regarding mental health are welcome to call Counseling & Wellness at any time for a general consultation. Also, parents are legally permitted to share one-way information with counselors regarding observations about their student.


Many resources are available for parents in navigating the tricky terrain of parenting a university student. You will find tips, guidelines and mental health information within these links that can guide you as you seek to support your student in thriving through the university years.

Mental health in university

Parenting your university student