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Holiday tips from fellow parents

Wondering what to expect when your student comes home for the holidays? Here's some things to consider:

★ Let them catch up on sleep before catching up on conversation. You may be ready to hear all about their first semester, but your student may be too tired to talk. This includes the car ride home. Likewise, give them space; they share a small room at school and may be looking for alone time.

★ They’ll want to see their hometown friends. Leave them time with friends at the start of break and be available to listen or plan family time later, when some students may start recognizing how high school friendships are changing.

★ Scheduling appointments: Things like dentist visits or haircuts may also be nice to schedule later in the break and not in the first 24 hours of re-entry.

★ Just for fun: Stock your pantry and fridge with their favorite foods or make their favorite meals. Or slip them some extra cash for a coffee with a friend.

★ Help them anticipate changes at home: Whether you’ve redecorated their bedroom or a sibling is using something they left behind, mention it before they come home so the change doesn’t throw them off.

★ Discuss expectations in advance: Will they need to share the family car with a sibling? How will you handle family meals? Ask them for their input on things such as household chores, laundry, technology use, sleeping in, time with friends—how may your expectations differ from theirs? The high school curfew no longer applies, but you can ask them to communicate with you if they’ll be out late, as a responsible adult would, or to tell you if they’ll be home for meals.

★ Prioritize events: Communicate any “must attend” family events in advance. Students have been managing their own schedule for months, so as much as possible, ask them rather than tell them about participation in events. Beyond the “must attend” events, be flexible, and help siblings or extended family understand when students will/won’t be available.

Suggestion for more family time: Ask your student to choose one activity they want to do with you and schedule it just as you would for an activity with friends.

★ Work schedules: Do they hope to pick up hours at a former employer or seasonal work, or are they expecting “down time” for three weeks? Another option: Suggest that they make their holiday “work” be research for a summer job/internship or completing the named scholarship application for next year (due Jan. 31).

★ Expect new opinions or new ways of looking at the world. Be curious about who your children are becoming and give them space to share new ideas. Remember that college is a time of trying new things, engaging with people from different backgrounds and perspectives, and discovering who they are. Ask for context—what internal thoughts and external circumstances are shaping them?

See “Connecting with college students over break” (Fuller Youth Institute, 2016) on talking with students about faith questions, political perspectives, new passions, and mistakes they’re learning from.

★ Discussing grades: Instead of offering your opinions on their grades, ask open-ended questions:

  • What have you learned about yourself this semester?
  • What will you do the same or differently next semester?
  • Are there additional academic support resources available to you?
  • What have you learned about your skills and interests from your fall semester classes? Do you feel like your current major is a good fit?
  • How can I support you?

If your student is pondering changing their major—that’s OK! Encourage them to explore and to talk with their faculty advisor about implications of such a change.

★ It's good if they’re ready to leave again. If your student is getting antsy to return to college and reclaim their independence, or if they are missing their friends from Calvin during this “long” break at home, be grateful—this is a sign of how well they have settled in and that they are where they are meant to be. (And if you’re ready to reclaim a quieter home, it’s OK to feel that way too!)