Home 5 Steps to Set Your Child Up for Varsity 5: Face your Fears

5: Face your Fears

by Staff Reporter
5: Face your Fears

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Here we focus on some of the problems your kids might face at varsity, how you as a parent can encourage your kids, and where they can find support.

When your children face issues at university or tertiary level, parents want to step in and save the day. It’s the mother/father-wolf in all of us. However the first step is to assess the situation to decide if your child actually needs help, needs guidance, or just needs a sympathetic ear.

A lot of these decisions may be out of your hands immediately if your child is studying away from home.  But there’s no need to panic and hop on a flight. This is a great time to let your child find his/her own inner strength.

What your child might experience?

Some of the scary or uncertain experiences your child may experience are:


Reassure your child BEFORE he/she leaves that homesickness is part of the experience, and quite normal.  However, try to discuss some strategies, as this is an enormous change and transition, and it’s better to be prepared for feelings of homesickness. Ensure your child can contact you easily when feeling unsure. Encourage him or her to get out for a run or some physical exercise, network with some known friends, to establish routines and to gain a sense of security as quickly as possible.

Expectations of great times are often over-exaggerated: your child expects to have masses of friends, masses of good times, but often there is actually a sense of loneliness. It’s completely normal! Reassure him or her of that. Time or “busy-ness” will be its own cure!

Not Making Friends

If your child is attending university away from home, there are normally others in the same boat, and you can be pretty assured that your child will make friends organically, like in lectures, with students from the same dorm/digs environment, and freshman week events.

In the unusual event that your child does not make friends, encourage your child to step out of his or her comfort zone, and join societies and clubs. They are sure to meet people in these environments, and people with common interests.

Participation is key, and a simple smile works wonders. Once again, don’t be tempted to save the day. Your child needs to work his or her way through uncomfortable situations. Of course, keep an eye out for depression, but common anxieties alone are not reason to step in. If your child makes a social and approachable impression, there is little chance of no friendships. It’s also important to remember that it’s not really about being the most social butterfly of the varsity – rather it’s about finding friends that can stay in your child’s life for a long time, even if that means making one good friend over the entire course of studies.

Culture Shock 

South Africa in specific is a breeding ground for culture shock, due to the segregated (economical or racial-based) school environments. Once the students come together there are massive adjustments all round, and once again, it’s a good idea to prepare your child for this, and encourage him or her to be open-minded and non-judgmental. This is part of the learning curve and will stand them in good stead for the working environment that follows on from tertiary education. There is no need for your child to change values, as values across the board are pretty universal: integrity, honesty, trustworthiness, respect for others.

From the Mouth of a Parent:

Janine Basel “My child had times where he was placed in dubious circumstances with his room mate at res (selling dope from his room), and I could hear my son was struggling with issues. However, he dealt with it head-on and only told me afterwards. Impressive, for a 17 year old away from home!”

Have a look at this article that talks about how your child can overcome culture shock and turn the experience into something positive!

Exam Stress, Low Marks & Work Overload

This is real and tough, but apart from encouraging your child to attend all lectures, and study continuously, coping with this is in your child’s hands. Remember, as long as your child got accepted for the course, he or she has the intellectual capacity for that particular course.

Some courses are harder than others, and many South Africans are first-generation tertiary educated. There is enormous stress involved, and many falter at the first sign of failure. Your job is to encourage them to believe in themselves, and to seek help from the different resource services on campus such as writing centres.

Another great idea is to encourage your child to chat to the lecturers. This is quite difficult in first year as the classes are so big, and therefore it depends on the approachability of each lecturer, or accessibility of each department. However, every lecturer will have consultation times available (often noted on his or her office door) to meet with students. If he or she is not available, your child can try sending an email. It’s really important to get yourself known by your lecturer in order to be seen as an individual person, rather than the face of one more student number.

If the workload does seem overwhelming, don’t forget about the value of bridging courses. This article will give you great information and is worth considering before your child even gets to varsity or may want to re-consider it early in the year.

FYI: If your child is struggling to prepare for exams, this article might be just what he or she needs.

How to Encourage Your Children

You need to keep communications open by being encouraging and non-judgemental, even in the face of possible failures. This is very difficult for many parents when they have put so much on the line themselves just to get their child to university.

Assess the situation.

Is it a crisis or not? Does it warrant your getting involved or not? Is it an academic, social, financial or personal issue? Consider underlying causes. Decide on a course of action together, letting your child take the lead. Lastly, don’t procrastinate. The sooner you can reach a resolution, the better for everyone. Encourage the student to seek academic or emotional support too, as you may well be out of your depth on what course of action to take.

Be aware that repetitive discussions between you and your child only re-enforces the problem.

Be cheerful, don’t allow for too much complaining, and encourage action. Constant discussions regarding the problems only lead to re-enforcing anxiety.

There is a big difference between discussing a problem and a way forward and constantly repeating and re-enforcing problems or negative behaviours.

So, yes, take the SMSs and the calls, but be objective and guide your child OUT of problems.

When it comes to pressuring your child to perform well at varsity, be careful about how much earnestness and importance you place on your child’s academic success. We all know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so in all likelihood your child will be well aware of the consequences of failing, and already feels huge pressure. It’s okay to push your children, but only to the extent that they don’t suffer from it, as this can often end up backfiring (even if it you have their best interest at heart).

Where to find support?

Each tertiary institution has career guidance and student help services to assist the students with mental health issues, career guidance, and general psychological counselling.

Academic support services like writing centres are also available on most campus. They are there for no other reason than to help students who are struggling with day-to-day tasks such as writing essays, conducting research, and the likes. Student should make use of the libraries, or of short courses offered by career guidance (like time management, study skills, and more). This article is a superb start and are the kinds of skills our children should have on leaving high school.

University Support Services

Pretoria University




Find the full range of services under Corporate Services




Rhodes University


Details for university support services or UKZN Aids Programme


University of Zululand

University of Cape Town

University of Western Cape


Stellenbosch University


Vaal Triangle Campus

Potchefstroom Campus

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