College Winter Break: A Parent’s Guide to Keeping the Peace at Home

college winter break parentsBy Suzanne Shaffer

If you have college students at home during winter break, your house has the potential to become a war zone. Why? Your student has spent some time away from home and tends to believe they are the “head chief in charge” of their life. Parents still believe they are in charge and “when you’re in MY house you follow MY rules!” But your child’s first college winter break home doesn’t have to lead to non-stop drama.

Here are a few tips to help keep the peace and assure a peaceful winter break:

Set some boundaries.

When my daughter came home after her first semester of college, she didn’t see any problem with staying out all night with her friends. You can’t expect your college student to adhere to a midnight curfew or check in with you about their every move; but you can expect them to have some respect for you and some consideration for your rules. Have an open conversation with them when they arrive home and set some boundaries that you are both comfortable with during the break.

Embrace their independent status.

Let’s face it—they see themselves as independent adults. You see them as children. Somewhere in between you should be able to find a compromise. It might surprise you just how much they want to revert to being a child and how much you want them to act like an adult. Independence doesn’t mean they have the right to do whatever they want when they want it. You can’t, however, follow them around expecting them to be at your beckon call and expect them to provide you with every little detail of their lives.

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Take a deep breath and ignore their new sleep schedule, their clothing choices, their newfound facial hair or piercings and their constant texting back and forth with their college friends. The little things that annoy you aren’t worth destroying your holiday spirit or causing strife during the few weeks they are at home. It won’t be long before they head back to college and you’ll be missing them again. The small stuff isn’t worth the sweat.

Don’t forget it’s “their” winter break.

The hardest part about parenting a college student is realizing that when they come home they have an agenda (and it’s not necessarily the same agenda you have planned). They most likely have three items on their list: sleep, catch up with friends, and eat. Don’t get your feelings hurt if they don’t want to spend every waking moment with you, attend all family meals, or go on family outings. They need some down time to de-stress and unwind. Give them the freedom to do that and you will be surprised when they actually WANT to spend time with you.

Forget the 20 questions.

The last thing your college student wants to do when they come home for break is answer 20 questions. Prying and prodding won’t get you any answers and trust me; there could be some things you might not want to know! It was my experience that I found out more during casual conversation than I ever did asking questions. Let your college student talk and you do the listening. They want to share; they just don’t want to be treated like they are in a police interrogation room.

Parenting a college student on its best day is difficult, on its worst day you will be tempted to scream and pull your hair out. My best advice comes from a very wise woman (my mother): this too shall pass. Remember this simple saying and your winter break will be filled with stress-free family time and when it’s over everyone will be speaking!

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parents Countdown to College Coach blog offers timely college tips for parents and provides parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze and survive the college years. You can connect with Suzanne on Student Advisor, on Twitter @SuzanneShaffer or on Facebook.

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