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When College Kids Come Home

6 Ways to Make That First Visit Home a Happy One

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When it comes to parenting college students, whether it’s Fall Break or the Thanksgiving holidays, that first trip home can be an emotional one, particularly when expectations collide. You imagined hours of long, lovely talks with your college student, just the two of you. He imagined sleeping away the stress of midterms, hanging with his high school friends till 2 a.m. and oh yeah, there’s this giant sack of laundry…

Here are half a dozen tips to make that Thanksgiving break reunion a happy one.

  1. Make travel arrangements well ahead of time. Book plane tickets early and encourage your child to line up his ride to the airport and allow plenty of time to get through security. If you’re planning to pick up your child on campus instead, allow a little extra time and patience. He may still be packing when you arrive. The sheer volume of luggage and dirty laundry may be startling. And there are so many good-byes to be said before you can finally hit the road. Pack water and snacks for the road, but also throw in a blanket and pillow. Junior may end up sleeping the entire ride home.

  2. Check in with your child before the holidays and find out what plans he may have already made. Let him know about any family commitments on the calendar but understand that he needs time to see his old friends too – they’ve been separated for months. And talk about any appointments he wants or needs to set up, including trips to the dentist, the eye doctor or hairdresser.

  3. Expect major changes. Your child will have grown a great deal since he left you. It’s a good idea to check if your child has gone vegan before you carve the roasted turkey or bake his favorite cheesecake. Similarly, if junior has acquired a full sleeve tattoo or is suddenly sporting a fuchsia Mohawk, your holiday will be more peaceful if grandma gets a heads up beforehand. The same goes for you. If you’ve made any major changes to the house, his old room or your life, let him know before he arrives.

  4. House rules and curfews? Your child has had complete freedom at college. He could go where he wanted, when he wanted, and no one waited up. Enforcing a curfew at home may not only be impossible, it also sends an unsettling message: that you have so little faith in his ability to take care of himself - even after he has proven himself capable for months without you - that you’re going to set his bedtime. It’s a message that not only makes for family strife, but fairly guarantees your child won’t be coming home too often after this. So think about your goal in suggesting a curfew at all. Are you worried about an exhausted teen driving in the middle of the night? Ask that the car be home by a specific time. Just want to know that he’s safe? Discuss what time he plans to be home and ask that he call or text you if there’s a change in plan.

  5. Expect your child to do a lot of sleeping. He may be coming straight off midterms and an all-nighter or two. Between the intense studying, dorm social life and his own brain biology, his sleeping schedule will have changed dramatically. He’s not lazy when he sleeps till noon the first few days of break – he’s exhausted.

  6. Your child probably brought all his laundry home – and he will love it if you offer to help, especially if he has run out of detergent or quarters for the dorm dryer. But this is a good time to help him re-stock other essentials too, including deodorant, toiletries, vitamins and cleaning supplies. He may have scoffed at the very notion of Windex and Fantastik back in August. Now, a trip to Long’s with mom will sound fabulous.

One last note: While some teens can’t wait to get back to college after the short Thanksgiving break, others still haven’t quite acclimated to campus life. They may have battled homesickness or wept over faraway high school sweethearts. After four days nestled with family and old friends, eating their favorite foods and having someone else do their laundry, they may not want to go back to college. If they drop out now, the entire semester was a waste of time, tuition and credits. Offer love and reassurance, and emphasize how few weeks remain until winter break. Often, the time between Thanksgiving and winter break is a turning point in terms of settling in to the college routine.

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