We have a lot to be thankful for this season — but nothing greater than for college-aged children coming home. Thanksgiving break is the perfect time to check in on college freshman. From gauging how they’re doing mentally or working out a plan on how to get them through the end of the semester, here’s how you can open up lines of communication, watch for any red flags, and help your freshman succeed.
Before the Break Starts
One of the worst mistakes you can make as a parent is to put too much pressure on your student before they’ve even left for home. Sure, you want to remind them to pack a sweater or try to convince them that flying is better than driving. But by nagging or upping their anxiety, they’ll look less forward to being with you.
Instead, try to remember that their break is meant to be a relaxing, easy going time. As adults, they should be allowed to make their own decisions, including mistakes. Let them lead the ship.
Depending on how far they have traveled, the first night may not be the best to judge their mental state or have a heart-to-heart. Allow the first day to be a quiet time. On the second day (or after they’ve settled in), ask them open-ended, nonjudgmental questions about school. For example: “You mentioned you have a tough schedule coming up next semester. What classes are you excited for?”
It can be tempting to slip in a few, “When I was in college…” stories, but for the most part, those are probably not helpful. Instead, practice active and patient listening skills. Talk less than them, use shorter sentences when they are replying, and allow them to vent or talk out a problem.
Every student is different, but many freshmen are more humble about their accomplishments than their parents. Thanksgiving dinner with the extended family isn’t the time to shout out their great GPA or that they joined a sorority. Let them share the good news themselves!
In addition, don’t be offended if they’ve become guarded or want to keep holidays simple and small. Be open to changing plans.
Before Heading Back to School
This is when red flags usually pop up. If a student talks about not wanting to go back, you know it might be time for a heart-to-heart or even an intervention. But more subtle signs that your student might be anxious include avoiding discussing next semester plans, asking for money, evading questions about their social life, or feeling a drastic shift in personality.
As parents of an adult, you can’t force your college student into any decision — even if the decision is in their best interest. However, you can offer your support and love. If your child does express fears that college isn’t working for them, listen without losing your temper. Sometimes all they need is a springboard. Other times, they want a person to tell them that they are there for them no matter the outcome. Luckily, if you have this talk before they leave, you can work out a game plan for the rest of the semester.
Once They’ve Returned
Even if you didn’t see any potential issues in your child, use post-break upswings in a mood to establish a connection when they’re on campus. Set up a calling schedule, send a care package or gift, and check in on details they discussed with (such as a professor they dislike or an internship they were applying to). They’ll love knowing you were listening to them just as much you’ll love that they opened up to you.
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