Navigating Winter Break With Your College Freshman

Seasoned college students tell me that nothing compares to the feeling of triumph and exhilaration upon finishing the last final exam of the semester. Done. Marathon completed. Uphill. Persevering through pain and dehydration. Battling sleep deprivation, the sniffles, upset stomachs, and stress. Finish line crossed. The end of the fall semester triggers a stream of emotions in first-year students. So when the happy, grinning zombie that is your son or daughter appears in your home for a four-week visit, here are some things to consider:

You may have made special plans over the course of your student's holiday break, but don't be surprised when your son or daughter arrives at your house with a completely different agenda -- one that includes eating, sleeping, and spending time with friends. Did I mention sleeping? Final exams are stressful on their own, but add late nights, lots of caffeine, fast food, and little or no exercise and you've got an emotionally and physically exhausted human being! Allow your student a few days to rest and "decompress" when he or she returns home.

Your child's level of adjustment to college during the fall semester can set the tone for meaningful (and occasionally lively) conversation during the winter break. It's not unusual for a first-year student to voice a few lingering concerns about roommates, the residence hall environment, classes, social life, and dining hall food. Listen to what he or she has to say, but don't rush to fix things. Certainly offer productive suggestions, but let your student take the lead on seeking solutions to his or her college concerns.

The wait for fall semester grades can be full of excitement and anxiety, and occasionally student and parent expectations may not be aligned. Whether the grade report is fantastic or not-so-good, your response can and should generate an important discussion. If you talk about improving study habits and time management, remember that the responsibility for making these changes belongs to your student. If things didn't go so well in the fall, encourage your son or daughter to map out a plan for improvement and share it with his or her academic adviser.

Over the winter break, your student may accidentally refer to their college or university as "home." If this causes dizziness and a pit in your stomach, you're not alone. Your house will always be home. But remember that he or she has spent 15 weeks eating, sleeping, studying, socializing, and working on a campus where students live together 24 hours a day. View such a comment as a sign that your child is adjusting well and eagerly looking forward to returning for the spring semester. It's a good thing ... really!