The end-of-the year holidays are upon us again. Many parents will be anticipating the return of their college students. The young child that had left some months ago is now returning home as a young adult transformed by their experiences in college. As a parent, you will still see this young person as a vulnerable child. On the other hand, the college student will see themselves as far more sophisticated and liberated and entitled than you may anticipate. The following are some tips on how to co-exist and make the holiday experience better for everyone:
- Let them sleep in for a few days. Don't be alarmed if your student comes home exhausted from the stress of taking final exams or turning in term papers to conclude their courses at the end of semester. They are sleep deprived from dorm living, late nights, noise, and studying. They may also be cranky. Most students have just finished finals, they are exhausted, and they may need a lot of sleep the first day or two. So don't be concerned if your student appears to be a zombie returning home.
- If there are siblings at home, the family has to readjust. Sometimes that's not all that simple. A middle child may resist and resent no longer being the oldest in the household. Time allotments in the use of bathrooms and pecking order of siblings will have to be reestablished and there may be some grumbling and complaining while that process is going on. Younger siblings may need support from parents when the returning college student goes off with the family car without permission or monopolizes the phone or computer at the household.
- Have lots of good food at home. Generally speaking, the food, that is prepared at home, is going to be better than the food they received at college. Great food can be a great motivator. Good food may provide an opportunity for conversations, provide opportunities to readjust the old schedules, and help your “zombie” return to the "land of the living". Remember, fresh baked goods are considered to be choice and premium food among most college-aged students.
- Give them some space. Planning prevents conflicts between you and your returning student. Since winter break can last almost a month, it can be a challenge to coordinate family schedules during the busy holiday season. The college students want to spend time with old high school friends and spend time with new college buddies. Consequently, plan ahead, consult, sit down during the early days of the vacation as much as possible. Always attempt to consult with your newly returned college student when making plans for family parties, vacations, and other family events. Including your college students in the planning will give them a sense of ownership on the activity and make them far more willing to participate.
- Try not to speak too much or to ask too many questions. You'll be amazed at the bits of information that will come your way, when least expected. At the same time, be sure to encourage participation in conversations during family meals or family get‑togethers. Your college student may be feeling a little left out or out of the loop because they have not been sharing some of the "inside jokes" and experiences which have occurred within the family unit while they've been away at school.
- Spoil them. Don't be afraid to spoil them, but don't do everything for them. Don't underestimate the thrill of letting them get their own snack from the refrigerator. But helping out too much can make them feel like a guest in their own home. It's easy to fall back into old habits when your child returns home. Though it seems easier to do it yourself, encourage your college-age student to continue to take responsibility for the things he or she had been doing in college: medical appointments, finances, communications with the college or university, computer maintenance, etc. This helps your college student continue to become self-reliant and confident.
- Don't forget traditions but update those that aren't working. Sure they're in college, but there's something about traditions that make us little kids on the inside. If you always picked out the Christmas tree together or made pies on Christmas Eve, make sure that those activities are planned and that your college student is invited to participate. It's important for college kids to feel at home versus just being home again. It's a reminder that something has stayed stable despite their lives being in flux. However, if there's a tradition that everyone doesn't take particular interest in, consider substituting something more fun in its place.
- Prioritize holiday decorating. Some parents may feel the need to have everything prepared before their kids come home, while others may leave everything to do together. Between those two options, college-aged kids are likely to feel that they are either missing out or are obligated to do too much. Instead, make sure that you include your college students in the activities you know they enjoy for spending time together. Think of a relaxed and natural atmosphere to make the best memories.
- Mix family and friends. If your kids have always been notorious for hanging out with their friends when you want to do something together, try combining the two. Let your college student invite their friends to spend some time with you and your family and invite their friends' parents as well. This keeps both you and all of your children involved and tends to be an enjoyable and comfortable atmosphere. Remember the old adage: "The More the Merrier!" At the same time, be aware, that some of the old rules won't apply. Your college student is used to staying out at all hours now. Consequently, you may have to adjust or eliminate curfew for them. However, it is fair to ask about his or her schedule and expect to know his or her whereabouts. Remind your college student that the household's longstanding courtesies are still in place. Generally however, allow your college student to lead the vacation life he or she chooses (barring blatant disregard for family members and all of the family traditions). Ask him or her to save some time to do something with you and the other family members (movies, breakfast, decorating, etc.)
- Remember to be thankful that your college student wants to return home. When the time is right, sneak in plenty of hugs and kisses.
Having a college student home is a time of a readjustment. Nevertheless, it is a time of joy and celebration when the family members can get together and share in their new experiences and celebrate established family traditions. Whether you're divorced or single, using some the above suggestions will certainly make holiday time with your college student more enjoyable and less stressful.
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