What the Holidays Mean for Your College Freshman

It’s the time of year when college freshmen begin preparing for their first big breaks from class. Whether it’s for fall break, Thanksgiving, or the winter holidays, your son or daughter will be coming home for the first time after beginning their post-high school journey.

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This is also likely to be the first time a few other things happen as a result:

You’ll realize your child is not just coming home to visit you and the rest of the family, and instead wants to spend every waking moment with old friends.

Things will feel different, but you can’t put your finger on it.

You’ll have a moment when you feel like they didn’t miss you as much as you missed them.

This can be an incredibly emotional time for parents. Your baby has made its way out of the nest in quite the dramatic fashion, and the fall holidays feel like an opportunity for reunion. So why doesn’t it feel that way?

As a parent, I know you want to suffocate your child with questions and make sure they know you’re there to support them. This is an amazing and noble instinct, but my best advice is to fight it.

The first few months of college have no doubt been a whirlwind for them. There have been moments of unmatched excitement, fear, sadness, and any number of other conflicting emotions. This huge shift into a new stage of life has come with some challenges that you may not even know about.

If you’d really like to know about them, I suggest being patient and waiting for it to come out of your child’s mouth naturally.

It’s more important than you know to be conscious about the way you approach your adult child. College students are at a greater risk for mental health struggles than ever before.

Anxiety and depression have been steadily on the rise in recent years, for various reasons. Students simply being overwhelmed and way too busy is a big one. Once they’re enrolled, many realize the rat race of college admissions isn’t the end…it’s only the beginning of another four-year race.

When the fall hits and exams are over, the feelings of overwhelm don’t necessarily dissipate.

The holidays are a particularly sensitive time for everyone. There can be a general sense of hustle and bustle as we travel or entertain family, prep for big meals, and feel we have to be on our best behavior for people we don’t see often. All of these pressures can trickle down to your college freshman, especially if they’re dealing with heavy stress already.

So what can you do?

Even if you want your child around for every minute of the holiday fun, just like old times, let go of some of your expectations. You may have to bite your tongue when your son or daughter would prefer to be napping in their room instead of helping you wrap gifts, or can’t put their phone down long enough to have a real conversation.

Resist the urge to force anything. Instead, tell your child how much you’d love it if they could join you for pie baking/shopping/family time, but leave it at that.

If they do decide to join in the fun, there’s still a battle to come: conversation. Since there was likely a big buildup of anticipation leading up to the first day of college, your child may feel uncomfortable expressing anything negative about their experience. At the end of the day, they don’t want to disappoint you. So opening the door for even the bad stuff is key.

One of the best ways to do this is to tell your own stories or a story about someone else who’s had a rough time in college or young adulthood. That may be the extent of the chat, but the important thing is that they hear you acknowledging that anything they’re going through, big or small, is normal.

In all likelihood, you’ll have a fantastic time seeing your child over the school break. But as is true in many stages of parenting, it’s crucial to be aware that things may not be exactly as you pictured.

Keep an open mind and follow your instincts. Relax and let your time with your college freshman be what it is!

If you and your child need guidance in navigating the social and academic changes that come about in the first year of college, I’m here to partner with you. Click below to schedule a free consultation and find out how we can work together to best support your child’s college success.

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Chelsea Torres