Coronavirus Email Update

JBU Email

Email sent to parents from the JBU Student Counseling Center 

Dear Parents,

My name is Emily Moore, and I’m the director of the JBU Student Counseling Center. As I’ve been reflecting on the stories that I’ve been hearing from students and parents over the past week, I’ve been reminded of something that happened when my children were small.

I have two 13-year-old daughters. In the week leading up to the start of preschool, one of them began to refuse to get dressed in the morning and would run away when I intervened and tried to help her. By the time I caught her each morning (she was very fast!), she would be very upset and tell me how mean I was and how very angry she was at me. I was torn between being sad that my sweet three-year-old was hitting me where it hurt, and being impressed that she was able to verbalize her feelings and knew what her mother would not want her to say. We were on our fifth day of what felt like was rapidly becoming a morning ritual, when I realized in a blinding flash, “Oooohhhh. She’s feeling anxious about preschool and she’s expressing it by being angry at me, because I’m one of her safe people.”

I’ve been a counselor for a long time, so it felt like it should have been obvious to me. But it wasn’t, because I was emotionally involved and not able to see it clearly while it was happening. Each time my daughters have faced a major transition — whether a new school environment, living situation or major social change — the pattern has been the same. Whatever grief they are dealing with or anxious thing they are processing in the back of their heads, rather than be able to articulate it clearly and ask for help in a way that doesn’t tempt me to yell, they most frequently express it by acting it out in a way that feels as if it makes no sense. I almost never recognize it immediately for what it is: a hurt person displacing their negative emotions onto a trusted adult.

This past week has been a time of massive change for you as parents, with most of your children suddenly out of school and back at home. Many of your work situations have dramatically changed overnight. You’re dealing with your own stressors, even while trying to help your kids through theirs. For your college student, this may be a particularly difficult period of grief. Everything has suddenly ended, with no lead time to prepare. Their social group has just dramatically disbanded, and most of their original summer plans are now on hold. For those in their last semesters of study, they may even have had their last in-person class or class with a particular professor unaware that this was the “last time.” And for many students, this may be their first experience with a dramatic unplanned change or loss.

As your student transitions home, I wanted to encourage you to remember that often their grief, anxiety and stress may be expressed toward you in ways that feel like they make no sense — irritability, anger or seemingly out-of-proportion sadness. You may find yourself thinking, “Who is this person that JBU has sent home to me?” or “I wonder if it’s okay for me to socially isolate myself in the garage, away from whatever is happening here?” This is a normal response, both for them and for you. Just as when your children were small, though, being aware that this is happening will help you better meet their needs, as well as take a step back and not receive it as personally.

When this is happening, here are a few things that might help:

1.) Reflect back to your student the feeling that they are expressing (“You sound…very angry.”)

2.) Express empathy for what they are feeling. (“I’m so sorry that you are missing your friends. I know that has to be really hard.”)

3.) Be patient and don’t take the displaced emotions personally. Remember, people only express emotions that feel overwhelming and dangerous to people they feel safe with.

4.) Affirm your faith in them as young adults who can manage this, while nudging them to helpful resources. Here are some that might be useful in the next week or so:

The JBU Student Counseling Center will continue to serve clients through the end of the school year. Depending on presenting concerns, we will help students find good mental health providers in your area or schedule online sessions as appropriate. Encourage your student to reach out and let us know how we can help!

Thanks for sharing your students with us. We’re praying for them and for your families during these challenging weeks. 

Warmly,

Emily K. Moore, MS, LPC