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College kids are home for break — Here’s how to manage tensions at home

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College-aged students are at a point in life when they are transitioning from late adolescence to emerging adulthood. They are taking on increased responsibilities and are more independent, which are key factors to facilitate development of important life skills. For many families, the return of a college student for a long break following their first semester can be a much-anticipated time to spend together for the holiday season. However, tension can also arise due to caretakers and college students/emerging adults debating on issues related to control and respect. Students may desire to have the same independence they had in their school environments while parents may be used to the dynamics present before a child went away to college. Each party may struggle with viewing the demands of the other as unreasonable or disrespectful, says Dr. Maryam Jernigan-Noesi. She’s an Assistant Professor of Psychology with the University of Saint Joseph.

Here are some recommendations for parents to help them consider and manage potential tensions at home:

  • BE PROACTIVE AND INITIATE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT EXPECTATIONS
    • It is probably not a good idea to greet your child at the door with a list of rules, demands, or criticisms as this may create additional tension
    • Take some time together to think about what you want to do over the holidays and breaks.
    • Don’t try to plan everything all at once, but take a calm start at hearing what everyone wants to do
    • Let your child know that you want to spend time with them
    • Be sure to include some time when everyone is together and some time to be apart
  • BE AWARE
    • Returning students are often very tired
    • Parents with the experience of attending college can show that they can relate
    • For families with first-generation students: ask, and learn about your student’s experiences at college. Be open to allow this to guide decision-making
    • Know your non-negotiables (e.g., curfew)
  • BE FLEXIBLE
    • Consider time for your child to spend with friends
    • Decide if you are ok with planning activities that may also include friends
    • Parenting styles can and should shift depending on what is developmentally appropriate
    • Do not think the old rules need to stay in place
      • Consider check-ins vs. a strict curfew

Here are some thing that may be helpful for returning college students to consider:

  • Don’t take potential tension or conflict personally
  • Parents sometimes worry about whether or not you have learned everything they hoped to teach you
  • Respect them and show them you turned out okay.
  • You are returning to your house; consider the feelings of others when making decisions about how you spend your time
  • Show off how much you have grown and matured while away
    • Keep your room tidy, offer to fix a meal, or do some laundry, etc.

Here are some of the issues that parents and emerging adults should be aware of that are specific to college-aged students

  • Traditional college-aged students also represent an age demographic when we begin to the emergence of the potential for significant mental health concerns
  • Although many children will seem a bit different when they come home, severe changes could indicate that something is wrong
  • Having someone to talk to helps. Even though they are getting older, ideally none of us get through life on our own. Even parents need to talk to their parents at times
  • Find a quiet time to talk with your child, tell them what you are seeing that is different, and ask what has happened over the semester
  • Check in. Keep your questions short and be prepared to listen
  • If talking to a parent is not comfortable other options may be available on campus