The following is an excerpt from the handout Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses, included in Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Foundational Training for Students. The guide is a facilitator’s guide for use with post-secondary students and the scenarios offer suggestions on how to respond to students who are overwhelmed and feeling distressed. These scenarios can be used as starting points for discussions and continued thought about how we can respond with empathy to students while recognizing and honouring their strengths and capacity to achieve balance. We will be reprinting one new scenario every month on our blog.
Student who’s struggling to balance studies with caring for their child
Alex is a single parent who is going to school full-time and is unable to find reliable daycare. The daycare on campus is full and Alex is on a waitlist; all the other community daycares are also full. Alex’s daughter, Gemma, is a toddler, and Alex is wary of leaving her with a stranger. Alex has no family in the area, and friends are unable to help as they either work or go to school themselves. With final exams coming up, Alex is having trouble finding time to study and feels options are extremely limited or non-existent. Alex tells you they have been trying to study while Gemma sleeps but cannot keep it up for much longer because they are feeling so sleep deprived. Alex looks unkempt and has dark circles under their eyes; they look like they are about to cry and seem very stressed.
- Empathize and acknowledge their need to ensure the safety and well-being of their child.
- Provide possible resources the student has not thought of, both within and outside of the school setting.
- Suggest they talk to their instructors to let them know about their situation and possibly request extensions on assignments, if needed.
- If your friendship is close and you have time in your schedule, you can offer short-term babysitting.
- I can see you really care about your daughter and how important it is to ensure she is safe and well- cared for. I also see how hard you are working to do well by studying while she is sleeping. I admire and respect you for putting yourself through school while raising a child. Is there anything I can do for you right now that would ease your stress? (You could suggest a beverage or food or a walk or even a shower if they seem a little lost or unsure. Sometimes parents are so focused on their children, they forget their own basic needs, and taking care of some of them can help them focus and feel more grounded.)
- I know it may feel like you are out of options, but perhaps we can figure this out together.
- We can contact student services on campus. They may have a list of caregivers for this specific reason or resources/referrals for parents. We can also try Facebook and ask the community if they know of any reputable caregivers that have space for your daughter.
- Perhaps it would be a good idea to speak to your instructors so they’re aware of everything that you’re juggling. They may be able to give you more time for assignments or may have resources or ideas you haven’t thought of yet.
Responses to avoid
- Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll think of something. (Chances are, they have thought of everything they possibly could think of. They would not be talking with you if they had any possible solutions in mind.)
- Can’t you just put her in front of the TV while you study? (Most parents do not use TV with toddlers as a long-term solution to a chronic problem.)
- Thank goodness I don’t have kids; school is hard enough without them. I don’t know how you do it. (Although this may feel like you are complimenting their strengths as a parent
and a person, it’s unhelpful and the focus is no longer on their situation and has shifted to how much easier it would be without children.)
This handout is licensed under a Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Foundational Training for Students International license (CC BY 4.0 license). © Dagmar Devine (CC BY 4.0 license)
“Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Foundational Training for Students” includes a facilitator’s guide with handouts and a PowerPoint presentation. This adaptable training resource covers foundational mental health and wellness information for post-secondary students and ways to respond to peers who are experiencing distress. It can be used for a two-to three-hour synchronous training session or for self-study.