The first long weekend of the semester is almost here and both you and your student are likely looking forward to sharing an enjoyable weekend together. Thanksgiving weekend is an excellent opportunity to relax, catch up with each other, and offers the chance to appreciate your college student's continued development into a maturing young adult.
Ah...this sounds like a perfect weekend so what could possibly go wrong?
Sometimes the difference in holiday expectations can cause conflict in the family. You may be planning lengthy get-togethers with extended family, along with lots of close bonding time with your student. Your student may be fantasizing about sleeping in his or her own bed till noon without the distraction of roommates or class schedules, as well as anticipating plenty of social time with old friends.
The change in independence might also cause a shock. You may have house rules, a set curfew, and expectations that your student will keep you well-informed of his or her whereabouts. On the other hand, your student has been independent at school for several months and hasn't had to answer to anyone regarding curfews or use of time. This disparity can cause an unexpected power struggle and ruin what should be a pleasant opportunity to re-connect with each other.
We encourage you to come to some agreements with your student before the long weekend begins to help minimize conflict. Here are some thoughts and conversation starters to assist in making your holiday season memorable and conflict-free. (We suggest you keep this article handy for the much longer break in December when transitions and changes really become apparent...consider this your warm up.)
Before the holiday weekend:
· Talk together about how you want to spend your time and try not to plan every moment. Protect some time together, but also plan for time apart. It can be challenging for students to balance quality time with the family and still visit with friends. Your support and willingness to allow your student some space to make these decisions will be much appreciated. Consider that your student is not only re-adjusting to being at home, but also discovering that friends are changing and growing. If this is unsettling, you can be a great source of comfort as your student confronts and comes to terms with these changes.
· Talk about house rules and how you might re-adjust them to accommodate the growing independence your student has become used to. Students at college quickly learn to make their own decisions and also work through both intended and unintended consequences. With your student back home, allowing expanded freedom can create a challenge for you, but also helps to further the growing adult-to-adult relationship that you and your student are working towards. Students also need to be respectful of house rules and routines, so flexibility and mutual understanding is necessary from all involved.
During the weekend (at appropriate quiet moments):
· Talk about school (but try not to let it become an inquisition). What is going especially good this semester? What isn't going so great? What classes are you taking next semester? Have you thought about living arrangements for next year?
In this conversation, it may be apparent that your student has changed - all students seem a bit different after having lived away from home for a time and that is very normal. However, if you sense a severe change or something seems really wrong, we encourage you to lovingly probe more deeply. Reassure your student that you are here to help, we at WMU are here to help, and that he or she doesn't have to struggle with problems alone. Your student may not be ready to share specific details, but just showing your love and support goes a long way to be reassuring. And in the worst-case scenario of serious mental health concerns, thoughtfully consider whether it is in your student's best interest to continue the semester or if another solution needs to be explored.
· Be prepared for change - your student is experiencing an increasingly open world in college and may express newly developing ideas surrounding lifestyle, religious, or political beliefs. WMU students are encouraged to respect and embrace diversity as they interact with people from all walks of life. They encounter new ideas and values that may differ from those they grew up with. Sometimes students struggle with reconciling these new and old ideals, so instead of letting this become an argument, use this terrific opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue with your student.
The main ingredient to a successful holiday break is treating your student as an adult. Open and honest communication that emphasizes concern and interest, both before and during the break will help to establish mutually agreeable expectations and boundaries.
One last observation that you may find helpful:
As the semester draws to a close, the work load increases - research papers, group projects, final exams soon to begin, along with the usual holiday pressures. As this intensifies, it is not uncommon for students to come to the erroneous conclusion that they have selected the wrong school and it's time to transfer. This phenomenon hits many students everywhere, no matter how mature or "together" they may seem. Encourage your student to think twice...do you really want to go through the whole college application and visiting process all over again?
Your student may simply need to vent and decompress with loved ones over the long weekend. If the topic of transferring comes up in discussion, approach it from an objective, non-judgmental stance and try not to over-react. Reassure your student that moments of self-doubts and questioning are very normal, especially at this time of year.
What are the issues that are troubling your student? Roommates? Coursework? Projects? Homesickness? Time management? Is your student uninvolved in campus life or perhaps over-involved? If you can identify the cause of your student's anxiety, you may be able to help put the problems in perspective and together, plan a course of action for the rest of the semester. And always remember that we at WMU are willing to assist your student (and you) however possible.
I wish you a restful and enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend!