When Students Come Home for the Holidays
Posted: November 6, 2012
Nearly three months ago, on a hot August day, first-time college students moved onto campus taking practically everything they owned and a little bit of their parents’ hearts. Today, these same students are preparing to head home for the holidays. Yet, life has changed both for the parents at home and for their student. How much has changed may not be readily evident to parents or their student, so to avoid any major calamities during the holiday season, taking time to establish expectations for life during break, for both parties, can make the season a time for celebration versus a time for consternation.
The student dropped off in August and the one that appears on your doorstep for the holidays will be two different people. Are you ready for the change? Most parents might think so, yet some of the following tips may help make this time together a bit less complicated.
Preparing for the holiday
Richard Tyler, assistant director for the NC State Counseling Center, recommends having a conversation about expectations prior to the student’s arrival home.
“There might be two separate or slightly separate agendas, and clarifying that now can alleviate some stress. Triggering a conversation and recognizing that there may be some things that have changed and there may not be some things that have changed - but just having the conversation about expectations, about limits, about needs from both parties - can maximize both agendas versus providing a list of “to do’s” creating animosity and frustration. It is helpful to have two people respecting each other’s time and scheduling and making it more of a plan about how to go about this time together.”
Students may experience a variety of emotions at the prospect of heading home for the holidays, such as relief, happiness, sadness, and fear. Parents may wonder how their student will act and may want to ask themselves the question, can I just let this young adult come in and operate as though they are still living in on campus or do I want them to operate the same way they did back in high school or can we meet in the middle?
Dr. Tyler shares, “I would encourage parents to shoot for somewhere in the middle. There is a level of respect that is shown that this is a home, not the residence hall and traipsing around all hours of the night won’t work. This is a time to recognize that here is a person who has more freedoms now, so respecting each other’s limits, but also making some requests of each other, may be in order. Some parents may consider parenting differently now—not that they were doing anything wrong previously, but recognize that their student is at a different stage.”
Typical student behavior
Students may regress when they return home for the break and want to have all their needs met after taking care of themselves during their time at school. Some students may come home and drop all their stuff, parking themselves in the family room and not moving for the next ten days. This is fairly normal. Keep in mind that they come home exhausted - and however their self-care has been throughout the semester, the Thanksgiving break falls at one of the worst times during the semester. It is right before the last week of classes, and students may have been preparing for exams, papers, and final projects.
“They just finished exams and preparation for these exams may involve an all-nighter, so what most people experience when they get home is sleeping for days. Students will often get a cold, not necessarily the flu or anything life-threatening, but they’ve exhausted their bodies and they’ve been exposed to 40,000 of their closest friends coughing on them,” Tyler indicated.
Welcome them home
Dr. Tyler also recommends welcoming home your student. As part of the conversation, it may be a nice opportunity to clearly let your student know you’re happy they’re home.
“Doing something that very clearly says, ‘I am excited that you are home’, can be helpful.”
Suggestions may be to ask about a favorite meal, favorite dessert, or favorite activity to do together when they get home.
Also, this is a time when life has changed on the home front. Perhaps the family moved? Was the student’s old room transformed into a new sewing room, or perhaps Dad’s long-desired man-cave?
“What typically is a big factor is to still make sure you are communicating. Let the student know where their space is when they are home. For example, ‘You don’t have the same room, but you get the den all to yourself.’ Ensure that the message the student has not been excluded is made clear.”
It is common for families to downsize and move to a new residence after their student leaves for college. Their student has gone off to college, the family has moved, and now the student is heading to a new home, maybe a new town, for the first time. This unfamiliar experience may be uncomfortable for some students. It might be helpful to think about how to assist them to acclimate to their new environment - give them a new-city tour or show them around, being sensitive to their adjustment to a new environment.
It may be necessary for the parents to have a conversation between themselves, or if a single parent, asking yourself how to prepare for your student’s return. Perhaps this is the last of your children to go to college and the home has been quiet for the past three months. Or perhaps the family size, reduced by one, has made life a bit less complicated. How do I want this time to be? Do I want to be the primary caregiver again or do I want someone who will be a good guest? It is important to be clear about expectations.
Dr. Tyler provided some final advice for parents, “One of the things I always tell parents when they call with concerns, don’t forget to still parent, set some rules that feel fair and set some expectations. People like boundaries. They like guidelines whether they push against them or not, they still like to know what the expectations of them are and so, even though your child is now 18 or 20, recognize that it is okay to have an expectation of them and to still parent in a way that is developmentally appropriate.”
One of the goals for the conversation is to establish expectations from both parties’ perspectives. Below are some questions or conversation prompts to help provide mutual expectations for a smoother holiday break for all:
- When are you going to come home for the holidays? When are you expected back at school?
- What were you hoping to do during the break? Both parties should communicate all the things they want to occur while at home and then negotiate to achieve an agenda that works for both.How do you want to approach parenting at this time?Students may feel that campus life without someone watching over their shoulder (with the exception of their RA!) and living without a curfew or specified bedtime, as well as living without anyone saying what they can and cannot do, could create tension due to parental expectations at home.
- Have a conversation between parents/partners, or if a single parent, ask how do I need to be ready for this person to come back? One of the following circumstances might apply: child left and we (I) have had the entire house to myself/ourselves for the last three months; or perhaps I’ve/we’ve gone from three kids to two kids, and it is easier, so how do I need to feel ready for this change?
- How are meals going to work? If I haven’t been used to preparing meals, am I ready to go back to that? Do I want to be the primary caregiver again, or do I want someone who will be a good guest?
- What, if any, circumstances have changed at home? Did we move to a new house, new state? If so, perhaps giving a tour of the new location and its amenities would be helpful for the student.
- Has our student’s home space changed? If so, make sure he/she has a designated space for the break, and everyone is made aware.
Additional items to consider:
- Hours/Curfew: Will there be a curfew? Remember, these students have been fending for themselves for three months and view themselves as adults—when do you expect your college student to be in, and what do you expect about notification of whereabouts?
- Sleeping patterns: Will the student be allowed to sleep in all day and/or stay up all night?
- Eating habits: Will the student be expected to be present for all family meals? Who will cook? Who will clean up? Who will buy or pay for groceries?
- Personal hygiene: Who does laundry? How do you share the bathroom? Should the student expect parents to clean or pick up after him/her?
- Drinking alcohol/smoking: What are the house rules or expectations, especially if the college student is still underage? How will you deal with a violation?
- Money: Who pays for gas and entertainment?
- Use of family vehicles: Who gets what car when?
- Friends, boyfriends-girlfriends, overnight guests: Are their rules?
- General household maintenance: Is the student expected to resume household chores or responsibilities such as yard work, caring for pets, vacuuming, dusting, and babysitting?
- Family gatherings: Is the college student expected to attend Thanksgiving dinner, church or other events? What does your college student expect to do?
From the November 18, 2002 newspaper: The Morning Call see website: http://www.mcall.com/features/family/all-3465289sep13,0,2207436.story
NC State University Counseling Center: http://healthcenter.ncsu.edu/counseling-center/
April 26, 2013
Wolf Pack N Give - Pack, Give, Go!
April 23, 2013
Parking During Move Out
April 18, 2013
Spirit of the Village Awards Honor Outstanding Residents
April 18, 2013
A First Year Experience Like No Other
April 10, 2013
Spring Blossoms: Sumikawa Water Colors
April 8, 2013
Summer Housing: Details, Dates and Deadlines
April 8, 2013
Villages Profiles: Honors and Scholars
April 8, 2013
New Village Offerings for Fall 2013