Within a day of arriving at school, Julie Montalto’s daughter, Dani, was calling home in tears. “A lot of it seemed like homesickness,” said Montalto, “but by her first day of classes, she was stressed and convinced she was already behind.”

Sending your child off to college can be one of the most challenging milestones you will face as a parent. Despite how well you may have prepared your child, they will most likely face difficult situations and emotions they haven’t experienced before. And while your young adult will be away from home and newly independent, they may still feel the need to check in with you for guidance along the way. This may mean being prepared to listen and support them through a tough transition.

Even though you’re still a mom or dad deeply concerned with your child’s well-being, college is also an important time for young adults to begin making their own decisions. Figuring out how much you should get involved — or whether you should let your student manage their concerns independently — will take some patience and consideration.

Here are some steps you can take when your child seems dissatisfied at school.

Listen To Their Story

Listen carefully to what your son or daughter is saying and how they’re saying it. While they may be unhappy, it’s also possible they just need to vent.

If your child is complaining about the cafeteria food or someone’s personality, for example, it’s likely they only need a sympathetic ear. But if their complaints are persistent, there could be a deeper issue that might need addressing.

At this stage, it’s important to remain engaged and supportive — let them know they’re not alone and that their other classmates are likely going through the same feelings, too.

Determine The Problem

It’s natural for freshmen to feel overwhelmed, so it might take some additional conversations to figure out whether the issue is a passing phase or part of a deeper problem. Give them time to open up to you about what’s really bothering them.

A student upset about the amount of class work, for example, may be adjusting to the challenges of managing their time and setting priorities — but if the work isn’t getting done at all, the problem could be more serious. Remaining patient and supportive will help you get to the root of your child’s distress and will help you determine whether you should intervene.

In Julie Montalto’s experience with her daughter, Dani’s unhappiness didn’t diminish after several weeks, so the Montalto family continued paying careful attention. They soon determined that what had initially appeared to be Dani’s adjusting to school was really a deeper issue requiring her parents’ involvement.

If Possible, Allow Them To Find Their Own Solution

In Toby Channen’s case, she took a step back when her daughter, Rachel, began encountering issues with her roommates, whose late-night antics kept her from sleeping. Channen encouraged Rachel to come up with her own solution. “All I kept saying was: If you like your classes, if you like the people and if you like the school, that’s what really matters. The roommate situation is fixable.”

Channen was proud when Rachel took charge by reaching out to the Office of Housing to change her living situation. After Rachel finally met a dead-end there, she discussed her options with her mother and, together, they decided that Rachel would try to find common ground with them so they better understand her situation. The Office of Housing was soon able to place her in a new room in the same dorm.

Encouraging self-reliance doesn’t mean that you can’t direct your child toward a plan of action. By allowing your child to find their own way, you’ll help them build confidence in their decision-making.

If the Situation Is Ongoing, Assess When to Get Involved

You know your child best. Persistent unhappiness could be caused by a variety of issues — but how can you determine whether it’s time to take a more active role?

In the Montalto family’s case, Dani’s anxiety was palpable to her mother. She had always been a good student, but the stress of her new environment caused severe anxiety that made it difficult for her to manage her first semester. Together as a family, they decided it would be best for Dani to come home and receive professional treatment for what was soon diagnosed as a chronic mental health condition.

If your child’s distress is extreme and their behavior seems off, you may need to be prepared to intervene. Find out if they’re sleeping through their classes or if they’re no longer able to handle their coursework. Be alert to any signs of anxiety, fear, anger or depression. Consider suggesting your child to seek assistance from the school’s counseling office. They may not realize that qualified support is close by, and being able to find and ask for help is a critical step toward independence.

It’s also possible that the school just isn’t right for them in the long-term — in this case, a school transfer could be the solution.

Encourage Independence While Offering Support

College is filled with teachable moments and it’s an opportunity to provide your freshman with the tools they need to handle the challenges of adulthood. But there’s no need to step away entirely — the transition can be difficult, so let them know you’re always there for support.

Dani Montalto was able to continue her education at a smaller school, where she went on to graduate. Despite the initial setback, Julie Montalto encouraged Dani’s independence and remained supportive throughout the transition. “There were a lot of starts and stops along the way,” said Montalto, “but she always knew I was there for her.”

Rachel Channen’s ability to follow-through brought her closer to adulthood, in her mother’s view. “I encouraged her to resolve the situation,” Toby Channen said, laughing, “because I wanted her to stay at school and not come home every weekend!”