A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

5 tips for stress-free winter breaks with college kids

Mom talking to college daughterParents, keep that initial excitement with your college students returning home for the holidays from turning frosty.

Their new-found freedom and independence may create unexpected tension and conflict, but it doesn’t have to be a winter break spoiler. Use these simple tips for a stress-free winter break.

“First-time college parents may be especially surprised by the differences wrought by a few short months of college,” said Dr. James Meyer, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. “College is a time when students transition to adulthood. When they return home for the holidays, parents and their college kids need to renegotiate rules such as curfews and family time, so both parties feel comfortable.”

Start by talking with your child

Meyer advises parents clearly outline expectations but also build in room for flexibility and compromise. He recommends parents:

  • Keep communication lines open so it’s possible to have difficult conversations when necessary.
  • Create a worry-free, safe zone at home. College students may be exhausted from exams and school stress. During the holidays, they need time and space to refresh and recover.
  • Avoid “interrogations” about school during car rides or at the dinner table. You may find your son or daughter will want to talk about what’s going on at school and open up during non-pressure situations such as shoveling snow or baking cookies.
  • Be sensitive when speaking to your college student about grades, majors and professions. Many students feel guilty about school costs and parent sacrifices to make it possible.
  • Openly talk about drinking and driving. Start by being good role models as parents. Many college students are underage and may have encountered decisions about drinking while they were at school. Be clear about your expectations while they are home and how you can help if they are left stranded at a party.

“Students can experience conflicting feelings of gratitude with trying to meet expectations and the desire to not disappoint their parents,” Meyer said. “All this can lead to emotional turmoil and tension. Your love and support can help make the precious time of winter break a restful and relaxing opportunity to reconnect with your young-adult child.”

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