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Welcoming Your College Student Home for Winter Break
Dec 15, 2014

We think this is great advice and can apply to any parent welcoming a college age child home for the winter break.

Is It Time To Go Home, Yet?
By S. Mark Sikes, Associate Dean of Students

This week begins some transitions from Williamsburg back to a place that many of us call home. Thoughts of family, love, hanging out with friends, comfort food, and much needed rest are the things that come to mind. However, the reality of going home for the first time since starting at William and Mary may be a bit different.

Winter Break may be the first time students go back to their family home. There are many opportunities for students and their families to remain in contact with each other. Mobile phones, instant messaging, Twitter, Facetime, Skype, Facebook and keep our students and their families together like never before. However, it is a bit different when they are back in your house for the first time since August.

The following advice is a summary of research and personal experiences over the years of working with students and their families during their first year of college:

Expecting the Unexpected
Even if you are in regular contact there may be some challenges as they return....Students may be concerned that their families changed their room or families may be concerned because their student made a drastic change to their wardrobe or hair. The changes that you recognize may not be earth shattering, but there may still be changes that both are not expecting.

Expectations: Students may believe that their new found freedom and self-determination may be slightly different than the house rules that they left just a few short months ago. Parents/Families may have different priorities for your student's time while at home. Dad may be expecting help with a home project, and Mom wants to take you over to a relative's house, while your student expects to spend at least 90% of their time hanging out with old friends. It is important to remember that both of you are making adjustments to the new way of life during the first year of college.

Planning: There may be many things that you have planned for students when they begin returning this week. Your time together may become a blur, and you risk disappointing the each other by declining. Your student may overdo it, expecting to see all of their family and friends while completing a class assignment or paper the professor gave an extension on.

The whole holiday thing: Putting all of us together under one roof, with the expectations of togetherness and harmony and goodwill may take more than a deep breath... there may be a turkey in the kitchen but there's an elephant in the living room. Remind them to temper their desire to flaunt their new found adulthood, and just relax. Your student may decide to fight the urge to introduce their new views about politics or relationships at the big holiday meal; I hope that if they really want to talk about how they now look at some things differently, they do it tactfully and lovingly, not to just rattle somebody's cage.

Four Weeks, Not Four Days
If you both can survive Thanksgiving, how different can the Winter Break be? Most importantly, it can be up to four weeks, versus the four days of Thanksgiving...What do you really think that your student is going to do during the time that they have at home? The true answer is sleep. There is something about being at home, in your room, and in your own bed that brings back the good memories of peace and quiet. So, don't panic if your student wants to sleep for the first two days and then wants to spend time with their friends. This is pretty normal. However, my advice is to make sure that your student is balancing sleep with spending quality time with you over the four weeks that they are home over the winter break!

Does this mean that while your student is home for the winter break that they are exempt from doing their normal chores? Well, that is really up to both of you to figure out...Families will usually shower their students with affection and pamper them for the first couple of days, but remember that they are going to be home for four weeks! Think about what are your expectations of their time balancing what are your student's expectations of their time. Hopefully, both can arrive at common ground and make the experience home a great one.

Additional Advice. Be prepared for boredom. Your student's old friends may be around, or they may not... and even if they are, they may find the connections are just not the same. There may be a bunch of new faces in their old group and their high school; the world they left behind may not be there anymore.

Have a Plan:
If you believe that your student has made some significant or slight changes in their life, habits, or appearance, touch base with them have a real conversation with them. Don't avoid the conversation if it is awkward while you are together for the 4 weeks over Winter break.

Plan Accordingly. You may experience that your need to spent time with your student may not match their plans and their immediate needs. Have some empathy for the needs of everyone in your family, especially their need to spend time with other people. Make sure that your life is not on hold while they are home. Give fair warning to your student about how often you plan to be away from home or understand how much they intend to be away from home. Can you make a compromise? They have been the eager and amazing William and Mary students in Williamsburg, hopefully, they have been making excellent decisions without you for the last couple of months - my advice is to respect that.

Grades. You may want to prepare yourself in advance that the most difficult conversation to have is a conversation about their grades - especially if they are not performing at your expectation or at their expectation of themselves. Praise their achievements where it is appropriate and have a conversation in advance if there are things that may come up or that may be considered a surprise.

Patience. Try to be patient. Activities and outings that occur towards the end of break, when the boredom sets in, may be more appreciated than walking into a pre-holiday whirlwind.Recognize that your student is also learning, growing, and experimenting with new thoughts and ideas, most of which are still works-in-progress. Try to temper your disagreement and/or disapproval.

The Journey Back Home. If you're coming to William and Mary to pick up your student, they may not be ready to go, and may have six times more stuff than you have room for. Try to be patient. Your student may expect to stay out to unreasonable hours and sleep in until noon. Some of that's because that's what they are used to; some of it's probably an attempt to show you that they are not a kid anymore. Rather than setting a curfew, you may want to instead ask them to specify what time he/she will be home. Again, try to be patient.

Less Than a Perfect Semester. If the first semester has been less-than-wonderful, your student might drop hints about their experiences. This will require some serious but subtle conversation from you; is it homesickness, or something more serious? For many students, William and Mary may not really feel like home until they come back after their first winter break. They may have come to campus on a wave of momentum in the fall, but coming back in the spring with the same momentum may be a bit different depending on how your student feels about their fall semester. I think by now, you see the overall theme of this paragraph: Try to be patient. You raised them to be healthy, well-balanced adults, committed academic scholars, and solid citizens. They're just not done yet. None of us are.

However you spend the winter break with your student, make sure that you are not putting too much pressure on making the time perfect. Allow them to take time to indulge and get some much needed rest. Allow them to have fun with their new friends and their old home friends. As always, please remind them to make safe and responsible decisions about their time at home.

I hope that your days together over the Winter break are fruitful, special and memorable.

All the best,


S. Mark Sikes
Associate Dean of Students
Director of Parent & Family Programs
College of William and Mary
(757) 221-2510