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Home (from college) for the holidays

By Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

Ahh, the anticipation … your “baby” is coming home from college for Thanksgiving. You’re looking forward to hearing all about college life and spending some quality time together as a family. You may find that your expectations may not necessarily jibe with those of your college student.

Here’s what most college students are thinking about as they return home for Thanksgiving, in no particular order:

Sleeping: I haven’t had much, and this break is a great opportunity to catch up. But I won’t be able to fall asleep until at least 2 a.m. since my body has adjusted to my new schedule. No problem, it just means I’ll be sleeping until at least noon when I’m home.

Eating: Dining hall food stinks. I want home-cooked meals. Please prepare all my favorite dishes.

Seeing friends: Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about? I’m going to hang out with my friends but I don’t know when, so I can’t make any plans with the family.

For college students returning home, especially college freshmen, there are lots of unexpected changes:

Things are different: They’ve changed, their parents and siblings have changed and their friends have changed. It’s disconcerting because they’ve just gone through a huge adjustment to college life and the natural expectation is that when they return home, everything and everyone will be just as it was when they left. Returning college students are often surprised that siblings and parents have lives of their own. While family members have missed their child’s or sibling’s presence at home, they too have had their adjustment period and have moved on. This is often a rude awakening for college students.

Tips for parents:

•  Keep expectations in check – don’t greet your child with a laundry list of plans, rules, regulations and obligations.

• Don’t take over their room, just yet. That means no “man cave,” office or moving other siblings into their room.

• Smile and don’t complain when you’re doing their laundry. Just think about the fact that you’ll have limited opportunities to do something so small that evokes such a big smile and a thank-you.

• Follow their lead in discussions about their new friends at school and their academics. Don’t pester them with questions about who they’re spending time with. You likely don’t know them and won’t remember.

• Expect changes. They may have gotten a tattoo, become vegan, changed hairstyle, etc. If the changes are of the obvious nature, it’s probably a good idea to alert the grandparents and relatives to minimize confrontational conversations.

•  Listen. If they’re homesick and unhappy at school, help them create a plan of action that includes talking with their resident assistant and their academic adviser – or perhaps even consider transferring to another college.

Enjoy this brief break! They’ll be home again before you know it in mid-December.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte;
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