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Discussing a Concern With a Student
The following information is intended to provide a broad framework for talking with students about any concerns you have. Each topic area contains more specific suggestions about how to respond to a particular concern.
Elements That Support an Effective Approach
- Relationship: Having a good relationship with the student lends more impact to your concerns
- Factual Observation: Be specific about the behaviors you have observed that concern you. Give a factual description using firsthand knowledge.
- Tone: Maintain a nonjudgmental, positive tone and frame your comments with concern for their health and wellbeing. Whenever possible, communicate your appreciation for their positive qualities; affirm the person, while confronting the behavior.
- Time and place: Have the conversation in a private place, when you know you won’t be rushed or interrupted.
- Respect their privacy: Only involve appropriate persons and convey necessary information.
- Support services: Provide information about resources that may help with what the student is experiencing. Sharing positive experiences or more information about a particular resource can sometimes help them take the first step.
- Hope: Be supportive and hopeful for change. Reassure them of your belief in their ability to make needed changes and that there is support for them in this process.
- Recognize your own limits: If you are feeling overly worried about or burdened by a student’s problems, this may be an indication to pass your concerns on to the appropriate campus professional and/or to seek out support for yourself.
- Involve others when appropriate: If you are concerned about a student’s mental or physical health or wellbeing, it’s a good idea to consult with another campus professional. See the "Resources" page on the left for contact information).
- I statements: Use “I statements” (detailed below) to decrease defensiveness.
"I statements” are often more effective than other methods of communicating concerns because they tend to diffuse defensiveness. I statements follow a very simple formula of:
I feel [concerned, worried, or another emotion]...
...when you [factual and neutral observation of behavior].
I am [concerned, worried, or another emotion]...
...because [factual and neutral observation of behavior].
An I statement can be followed by a request for them to change their behavior, or by a question inviting them to share what is going on for them, e.g.:
“I’m concerned because you’ve missed the last 3 classes...Can you tell me what’s going on?"
“What’s going on with you? You’re never in class anymore!”
Listen to their response, and convey your understanding by reflecting their thoughts/feelings/position back to them. You can always come back and reassert your initial statement of concern.