A Parents’ Guide to a College Kid’s Winter Break

In August, you sent your son or daughter off to college.

Since you’ve sacrificed, scrimped and saved for your smarty pants to sit in lecture halls, you’re probably expecting that he or she will return home this winter break, excited to engage in late night bonding sessions with you over cocoa. We hate to ruin your fantasy, but this probably isn’t going to happen.

Your child will likely walk in, mumble “hey” in your direction, then open his or her laptop to check Facebook. The rest of the time will be spent texting new friends, hanging out with old ones, sleeping, and rolling his or her eyes at everything you say.

Before you start screaming phrases that your child certainly won’t learn the translation of in Spanish 101, consider what Dr. Ellen Diamond, a Highland Park Clinical Psychologist has to say about college students returning home. “The primary psychological task of a teenager and young adult is to separate from the family and become a whole and viable individual leading an independent life. No stage is more about this than being launched off into college,” Diamond says. “So when they come back, they’re experiencing an unconscious tug of war between independence and dependence, child and adulthood.”

Great news, huh? It’s actually good for them to be moody and disrespectful. Even though you now know it’s good for them, it will likely drive you crazy. So here are some helpful tips to get you through the next few weeks. Don’t toss this article out. You’ll need it for summer break.

Plan for their time home while they’re still back at school.

“A week earlier, call your child and say, ‘’I want to talk to you about what it will be like when you come back home.  We want to give you freedom to come and go, but we have to work in morning and opening the garage at 4 a.m. won’t work,’” suggests Jason Price, a North Shore marriage and family therapist. Plant the seed ahead of time that they won’t have the freedom to do exactly what they want, when they want.  

When they don’t follow your rules, try to talk to them about it, instead of yelling.

Regardless of the conversation you have over the phone, chances are your child will still stay out later than you like. Or refuse to join family functions. Or text during dinner. “If they are being rude, you want to be careful that you behave like an adult, and stay cool,” says Diamond. “Count slowly backwards from ten to zero. As you do that, visualize them when they were at they’re cutest. Deep breathing works too. Yelling will only make the situation worse. They’ll just get more defensive.”

If they still don’t listen, make it clear that their behavior has consequences.
“If they don’t listen to your calm request, use what leverage you have as a parent,” says Price. He gives you permission to say, “We’re paying for school. We’re paying for that cell phone. And if you want us to keep doing that, you have to show us some respect.”

And make sure you follow through on those threats. Right away. “The consequences have to be immediate,” says Diamond. “Don’t say, ‘When you’re dad comes home’ or ‘No car at spring break.’”

Prove you’re not an old fuddy duddy.

Dr. Connie Fletcher, associate professor at Loyola University Chicago, raised two college graduates and works with college students on a daily basis. Before her daughter returned home from college, she dyed one section of her hair blue. She says, “My daughter was like 'What has Mom been up to?’" After all, you may be a parent, but you can still be cool and worthy of your child’s company.  

Have any other tips? Share them in the comments.

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