What to Expect When Your College Kid is Home for the Holidays

by Lisa Douglas

Child coming home from college for the holidays? Make the most of the time together with these tips and tricks on what to expect when your college kid comes home for the first time.

This is a sponsored post – I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc. and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own. Please take a few minutes to complete the survey linked at the end.

Brothers

What to Expect When Your College Kid is Home for the Holidays

Dropping them off at college and saying goodbye to your child was probably one of the hardest things you as a parent can experience. It’s hard to let go after 18 years of them living under your roof. Will they eat well? Sleep alright? Will they make friends? Find school too hard? Will they be able to handle the workload alright?

First year college students undergo many stresses and frequently feel overwhelmed, confused, and somewhat depressed with all the changes. With Thanksgiving fast approaching, be sure to have a heart-to-heart when your college student comes home about how they’re handling the transition. If this is their first time coming home since they left, this is a perfect time to check-in with them to really gauge how college is doing for them. Of course, you’ve talked with them these past few months, but by being in your presence for the holidays, they will feel more open to talk with you. They’re home, under your roof once more, and in their safe place.

In my last Med-IQ post, I discussed ways to help your child prepare for college not just by stockpiling supplies and such for their classes and dorm rooms, but mentally as well. Helping them to seek out resources local to them and on campus, reach out when help is needed, among other stress-relieving tips and tricks. Now that your child is due to come home for the holidays, be prepared with these helpful tips and tricks on what to expect when your child comes home for the first time from college.

Sisters

Your College Child Comes Back Home Slightly Different

After being on their own for a few months, you might notice that they’re different in certain ways. Perhaps your clean-shaven son now has facial hair. Your daughter might come home with a different hair color, style, or way of wearing her makeup. They may have gained or lost weight. Regardless of whatever the changes may be, surround them with a ton of love and lots of opportunities to talk about these changes and more.

No doubt by now they’ve really experienced what a huge transition it is to go from high school to college. By this point, they have managed a large array of stressors like grades, money, home-sickness, social pressures (like underage drinking), or sexual pressure.  Being out of your house and out “on their own” (even if only at school), it’s given them the opportunity to make another transition – from being a child to an Adult (with a capital A). Talk with them about these changes, create a safe environment to let them be free to tell you what’s on their minds, even if it’s troubling to hear as their parent. Support here is most important!

Brothers climbing together

They Seem Exhausted and Sleep A Lot

It’s been decades since you were a child at college, so you may have forgotten just how exhausting college can be, especially for the first time. Sure, they’re young and eager for life, but do you recall how hard it was to juggle your school commitments, job (if you had one), and a social life when you first stepped out on your own? Staying up late studying, staying out late on weekends hanging with friends, no parent to enforce a curfew, encourage them to eat right, take vitamins, they’re wiped both mentally and physically.

Being home in their own bed under their parents’ roof is like collapsing into bed after a long hard day at work, only it’s been a few months of long hard work for them. They’re completely burnt out in a lot of ways, and this is their time to recharge. When speaking with your child (when they’re awake, that is), be sure not to overload them with a barrage of questions. Encourage talking about ways to prevent them from being so exhausted by college, but make your talk as stress-free as possible. See if you both can find ways to help make them less stressed and wiped out now that they’ve experienced college first-hand. Related resource: https://www.settogo.org/cardstack/managing-stress/

Dude's first new car

They Might Test Boundaries

Don’t be surprised if a few months of freedom have made your college kid more bold in their personal choices. Perhaps they don’t want you to enforce the same high school curfew they once had living at home with you. Perhaps they’ve tried alcohol and/or drugs, had sex, stayed out all night, and want to participate in these activities now that they’re home. You’re worried, naturally. This is your baby after all, even if they are grown-up, you must take into consideration that they’ve been out on on their own for a few months now. They’ve developed their own schedules, new ways of doing things, and these might not align with what you wanted or expected from your child.

Be sure to set firm but gentle boundaries about what you expect from them during their visit, the sooner the better. Be sure to recognize their new independence, but convey to them it’s still your house, your rules. Encourage them to propose an altered set of rules now that they’re grown and away at college – if their old curfew won’t work, will a new later one do? The more you involve your child in this process, the easier it will be to set and enforce.

Be sure to also discuss with your child their reasons for these new bold choices. Be sure to root out that it’s mere experimenting rather than acting out emotionally or physically. If they tried alcohol or drugs, was it to experiment, or numb some stress or situation? This would be a perfect time to discuss ways they can decompress, destress, and keep it altogether without succumbing to peer pressure and self-medication in all the wrong ways.

Kids at Garden of the Gods

They Might Be Emotional

For some children coming back from college for the first time, they’ll throw their arms around you like they haven’t seen you in years. They might cry. They might not want to let go. (You might cry too, let’s be honest here. You’ve missed them like crazy!) Some will come home perfectly fine, ready for the good home cooking and to catch up on laundry (friends, there will be LOADS of laundry, be prepared!) Some will come home ravenous and eat everything in sight and pilfer food and pick your pantries clean. Let them. Feed them ALL THE THINGS and be grateful you can. Others will come home seeming somewhat emancipated and ready to tackle stuff on their own. Wonderful resource: for navigating emotional an social skills.

Whichever one of these scenarios ends up being your child the second you lay eyes on them, remember all the changes they’ve been through. Be gentle with their emotions, and tender when you need to be. They’ve experienced a LOT in these first few months away from you. If you feel they are exhibiting some, have your child check out this mental health screening tool.

Anxiety and depression isn’t something to be ashamed of, friends, it happens in 1 out of every 4 or 5 people, and is completely treatable. Parents, let’s help de-stigmatize this topic and help our children succeed with both a strong heart and mind. That’s why I partnered with Med-IQ once again to help generate awareness around depression among teens and dismantling any and all stigmas around it. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals. One out of every 4 or 5 individuals suffers from some sort of depression or anxiety disorder with onset occurring at age 15-24.

Steelers Fans

Both parents and students alike can be better informed on how to help your student by using online tools and encouraging your student to use these tools to inform and assess their own needs. Online tools will help your student learn how to track their own stressors and know when to get help. As they continue to transition from living with you to living away from you, your student is learning who they are and who they want to be, and part of that is learning how to take care of their own health. Check out this downloadable resource that can help you both navigate through everything!

Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with depression and mental health in your college-aged child, which will help us develop future educational initiatives.

Once you’ve completed the survey, you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 VISA gift cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize.

Disclaimer: Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content.

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