Welcoming a college student home for the holidays—especially if it’s their first extended visit since going away to school—can be the occasion for joyful reunions as well as some added household tension. John Greene, professor of pediatrics and associate dean for student health and wellness at Vanderbilt University, offers these tips to help keep the peace among your family members this season.
Students have just completed a long semester and the rigors of final exams on little sleep. They likely view their holiday break as a time for rest, relaxation and a reprieve from obligations. In addition, after months of dorm living, they may resist the curfew you enforced when they were previously under your roof.
“This can produce some friction,” Greene said. “I think parents should realize this is not a different person coming home, but a young adult who is developing independence and has thoughts about a schedule of their own both for family meals as well as family activities during the holidays.
“The student may see this time as a break from academics and the stresses of school, while parents are just excited to have the young person back home and may try to gently push them back into the role that they had before,” he said. “So I think communication—as usual for most things—is very, very important.”
Communicate your expectations.
“I think as soon as possible, sit down with your student and say, ‘These are the family plans for the holidays—let us hear your plans. What were you thinking you’d like to do? What would you like your schedule to be?’” Greene said.
At the same time, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect your student to be a part of the family unit.
“It’s certainly not unreasonable to expect the young person to participate in family activities,” he said. “Asking them to drive a sibling around, run errands and be a part of the holidays is more than reasonable. Just realize that you probably have a more independent person coming home than you had before they left.”
College students are often exposed to new knowledge and ideas by professors and friends. When your student expresses new, perhaps contrary views to your own, don’t react, Greene advises. Instead, use it as an opportunity for family discussion.
“They may have been in classes or talked to other students who disagree politically or socially with some prior parental views,” Greens said. “I think parents should just listen and reflect back what the student is saying, and make sure they understand that the student is trying to find their own way and become their own person.”
Set a goal to make the experience positive for everyone.
As much as they might resist old rules and express newfound independence, most students still relish the comforts of home: sleeping in, home-cooked meals and plenty of TLC from mom and dad.
“I think it’s very important for parents to try to enjoy their young person, and for the young person to try as much as possible to enjoy the experience of being home, because in many ways, this is a time that won’t come again,” Greene said.
“If both parties can think of this time as making a memory, that will go a long way in terms of getting them through the many semesters and separations that lay ahead.”