Counseling Center

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

"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.