When Students Come Home for the Holidays: Expert Tips for Parents

Many college students will soon be returning home for Thanksgiving and staying home through the middle or end of January. 

Many of the parents we work with in our practice have expressed feelings of both excitement and apprehension as they prepare for their college students’ return home. As mental health practitioners, we believe it is important for parents to be flexible and open-minded about their expectations for this prolonged holiday visit.

If you have a returning college freshman, make sure you are prepared to welcome home a different person than the one you said goodbye to this fall. Above all, keep in mind that this holiday season will be especially challenging due to COVID fatigue and ongoing risks.

If you have a returning college freshman, prepare to welcome home a different person than the one you dropped off. (Twenty20 @briteen58)

Some “do’s and don’ts” for parents as they prepare to welcome their students home

  • Do start a family conversation, as soon as possible, about how you will be spending the Thanksgiving and December holidays. Thoughtfully discuss everyone’s expectations, thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Remember to validate each other and express your own frustrations, disappointments, and anxieties.
  • Do help your family understand that every family will be making their own decisions about how they will be spending the holidays this year. Model open-mindedness towards others and the ways in which they choose to celebrate.
  • Do keep in mind that many of your students will be finishing the semester at home. Help them find a space for doing their school work that maximizes the quiet they need to be successful and does not intrude on your space.
  • Do expect that your students will need some time to chill, recover, and catch up on sleep. Don’t force them to adhere to your daily schedule, especially when it comes to asleep and awake hours. 
  • Do give your students space to make their own decisions and respect that they have spent many months learning and practicing self-reliance.
  • Do discuss age-appropriate home rules and expectations for curfew and visiting with friends. Discuss a safety plan regarding COVID risks with your student and the rest of the family. Don’t be too rigid or unwilling to change you mind, as we continue to learn about the virus. Flexibility and understanding will go a long way towards creating healthy cohabitation with your college students during the long winter break.
  • Do ask for opportunities to talk and share. Don’t push or demand.
  • Do ask your college students to participate in household chores and responsibilities. They need to know they are still part of the family and not a guest.
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself. This holiday is likely to be especially stressful for parents, so make sure you maintain a self-care and wellness plan. If you do not already have a self-care plan, start one now. You will be glad you did!
  • Do turn to family and trusted friends to talk about any concerns that arise. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your medical team if you are concerned that you or your young adult may be suffering from anxiety or depression.

For more holiday guidelines visit the CDC website.

For child and adolescent psychiatry guidelines visit the AACAP website.

More to Read:

Avoid These 12 Mistakes When Your Teen is Home for Thanksgiving

About Mojgan Makki

Dr. Mojgan Makki, MD is a practicing psychiatrist with over 15 years experience working with children, adolescents, and adults. He and Dr. Joe Novak, Psy.D. (a licensed clinical psychiatrist who has been working with children, adolescents, and adults for over 30 years) are both partners at Solutions Northshore in Northfield, Illinois -- a practice with an emphasis on family dynamics and parent coaching while treating adolescents and young adults.

Read more posts by Mojgan

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