A Winter Break Survival Guide for Parents of College Students

Posted on December, 04, 2023 by

Your college student is about to come home from winter break and you are so excited! But then…

Scenario 1: Your son has just arrived home for winter break and you are so excited to see him! But wait, who’s this with him?  His girlfriend. Surprise!  Um, okay, would have been nice if he told you she was coming, but okay.  Change the dinner reservations to one more and put her bags, where exactly?  The guest room?  His room?  In the trunk of his car?

Scenario 2: What do you mean you’re leaving?  Your daughter has been home for exactly 10 minutes when she tells you she is only there for the night and then she’s going on a road trip with her college besties.  And by the way, she needs money for gas and the Airbnb.  But you had so many mother-daughter bonding moments planned!   You don’t even know these kids, they could be alcohol abusers, or worse, sorority girls.

Scenario 3: Can you just come down and eat dinner? Your son is up in his room, in the dark, probably sleeping or playing video games. This is what he has done day and night since coming home for winter break. The traditional trip to the Christmas tree farm, movie night, seeing his friends, he won’t do any of it. This is so not like him. Do you leave him alone? Insist he come out and be part of the family? Try to have an honest and risk making things worse?*

You may think I constructed these scenarios to make my point, which is half true.  I did use them to make my point, but they are all possible, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.  All this miscommunication could probably have been avoided.

Here are some tips on how to have a successful break with your college student:

1) Communication is Key: Before your student arrives home have an open, honest conversation about your expectations and theirs. This will set the tone for a smooth transition back into the family routine.

2) Respect Their Independence: Your college student has been living on their own, so give them some space and autonomy to catch up on sleep or hang out with their friends, but let them know that spending time as a family is important too.

3) Set Curfew Guidelines: Make sure to let them know you are aware that they were probably out all night at times while at college and did not need to be accountable to anyone. But, if it would be an issue if they did that while at home it’s okay to set a boundary that they need to text you if they plan to be out all night.  And give a time to text you by.  A text at 4 a.m. saying they will be spending the night with a friend does not count.

4) Be Mindful of Privacy: Remember that college students value their privacy. Knock before entering their room, and respect their personal space. It fosters trust and shows you trust them too.

5) Budgeting and Expenses: Many students ask for extra money days after they are away at college. Talk to your college student about their finances. If they have a part-time job or an allowance, help them manage their budget.

6) Prioritize Family Time: Plan some family activities or outings to reconnect during the break. Give them plenty of advance notice and pick the activity together.

7) House Rules Still Apply: Reinforce any house rules you have, such as overnight guests or staying out overnight, and alcohol consumption. Be clear about your expectations, but remain flexible as well.

8) No Judgment, just solutions: Make sure they know that they need to communicate to you if they are having issues with academics at school and talk about possible solutions. Preface this by telling them you will not be judgmental or disappointed.

9) Flexibility Matters: Be flexible and adaptable. College breaks are short, and things may not always go according to plan. Flexibility ensures a stress-free environment for everyone.

Of course, you can’t plan for everything that might happen.  Again, remember to communicate. Let them know before coming home what the boundaries are and ask questions.  Asking, “What are your plans while you are on break?” gives them an opportunity to tell you some things they might not have thought to do so before. They still may surprise you and bring home their new pet pig. Remember to stay calm and talk about possible solutions.  You may have a pig sleeping in your bathtub for a month but there are worse things… it could be a sorority girl. 

*This behavior could be a sign of a mental health issue and should be taken very seriously.