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Your College Child: Home for Winter Break

Winter break is here!

And parents of college-age children are experiencing a range of emotions.

At one end of the spectrum, we’re excited to have our child home for a few weeks. Happy to have our family together, we have visions of sugarplum fairies and the good old days.

But there can be challenges to having your college-age children back home. (And if you’ve been through the drill before, you know what I mean).

So let’s talk.

Of course, every child is different so there is no way to stereotype each of our experiences. However, having had at least one child “return home” each and every winter break for the last nine years - I have some front row observations that I’m happy to share.

The Grass Isn’t Always Green

The toughest thing many parents experience when their college-age student comes home for winter break is the issue of “family rules.” And the issue is easy to understand: the child has just spent three months untethered from almost every rule they have ever had to follow: curfew, the volume on the television, picking up their room and – among many other things - rules pertaining to alcohol.

Mom and dad often think that the family unit will pick up where it was a few months earlier.

But your collegiate shining star sometimes comes home with different expectations.

The result?

Visions of a copacetic holiday are replaced by parents counting the days before their child returns back to school.

But it doesn’t need to be that way – especially if you do some advanced thinking, planning and communicating.

Head ‘Em Off at the Pass

The number one advice I give parents of college-age children is to address concerns before they come home.

What does that look like?

It can come in many ways but for me, it’s a phone call a week before break begins.

Have Your List of Talking Points Ready

  • Acknowledge their Independence: Don’t strip you child of the positive feelings they have about living independently. Embrace it! But make it very clear to them that life at college is different than life at home.
  • Remind them that “home” is not “college”: It seems so obvious to you – but a 19-year-old may have a hard time making the link. You need to be direct with your child about the fact that, when they are at home, they still have house rules.
  • They are not the center of the universe: This is especially important if you have younger children. But even if you don’t, you need to give your college student a reminder regarding the fact that the world doesn’t revolve around them. And when they are home, they need to respect the needs of other people who are under your roof.
  • Address all of the basic “rules”: Address everything from curfews, to the amount of time you expect to have with them, to laundry, to keeping their room clean, to alcohol.
  • Be very clear when it comes to alcohol: As I always say, approach the discussion of alcohol from a perspective of health. Every parent has a different attitude about what is acceptable or not – but I hope we can all agree that keeping our children (and others) safe is the top priority. Talk about driving. Talk about drinking in your home. Talk about drinking in front of younger siblings. Talk about your expectations for behavior and communication when they are away at friends’ homes.

And most of all, get a verbal acknowledgement that they hear you, they understand you, and that they support you. (And, by the way, this is a two-way discussion. Be sure to talk to them about ways that they need you to support them while they are home!)

The Most Important Thing

More than anything, enjoy having your child home for a bit. Everything won’t be perfect. Accept that. Acknowledge the reality that your relationship with your child is evolving. But with open, authentic communication, you’ll be on the path to a positive, happy time together.

Jim Higley is an award-winning author and a national advocate for fatherhood and men’s health issues.

*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.*

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