Tips for Parents

Home (or not) for the holidays

By Diane Schwemm

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High School Parent | College Parent

We’re still getting used to our students being gone when suddenly it’s time to prepare for their first visit home.

I use that word intentionally — it is a “visit.” Home will always be home, but at some point during the first year of college, the center of a student’s universe shifts. We see this even more clearly with our older students.

Though we understand it’s supposed to happen that way, it can still be hard to accept. We’re glad our students have new friends, new dreams, new opportunities, but that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes feel wistful and a little bit sad.

Quote“Our daughter’s school is a plane trip away, so she spent Thanksgiving with her roommate’s family. We couldn’t wait to have her home for winter break! Then it turned out she had to go back right after New Year’s for basketball. Not only that, she’d already applied for a spring break volunteer project on campus. It’s all good but… I just didn’t realize, when she left for college, that she might not come home all that often.” — A first-time college dad

Not every student is in a hurry to fly the coop. It varies, and you know if you have a homebody or an adventurer.

Still, even as early as freshman year, many students make plans for long weekends and spring break that don’t involve coming home. January term internships and summer jobs lure them to other locales.

When time at home is a rare commodity, look for ways to make the most of it. Here are some tips!


This might be your students’ first visit home since the start of the school year. Stories may spill out right away, or it could take a few days for them to open up.

  • Ask about new friends and where they hang out and what they like to do together.
  • How is coursework going? Offer tips for making it through finals.
  • Look ahead to winter break. How long will they be home, and do they plan to work or just relax? Many colleges take most of January off, but your student may need to be back on campus earlier than you expected (for winter sports, for example, or to take a class).
  • Send students back to school with a first aid kit, a filing system, or anything else they forgot at the start of the school year. They can also swap out warm season clothing for winter clothes and footwear.

Winter Vacation

Once students have caught up on sleep, they might take off with old (or new) pals. In the time you do have together:

  • Encourage your student to reflect on first semester and set goals for second semester. What were the highlights? Did they establish good study habits or is that still a challenge?
  • Help them take stock of their budget. How’s the money holding out?
  • Point out that, if academics are under control, the midpoint of the school year is a good time to get a campus job, join a team or organization, or volunteer.
story-icon-bar-convo-3Tips for parents of long-distance students:
The university may provide shuttles to local airports and train/bus stations. Is there a Ride Board or Facebook page where students can find and offer rides? Double check the academic calendar and exam schedule with your student before booking tickets.

Spring Break

Students who come home for spring break often just want to flop around playing video games or reading for fun. R&R should be the top priority; the rest of the semester will be intense.

But spring break week is also a perfect chance to tackle, in a low-key way, one or two of the practical life skills that will come in handy sooner or later:

  • Car or bike maintenance
  • Meal planning and cooking (especially if they’ll live off campus next year)
  • Filling out income tax and financial aid forms
  • Working on resumes and the summer job search

Of course, during every visit home, make time for a family dinner or movie night, a quiet walk, a coffee date. It’s okay to remind them that you cherish their company now more than ever.

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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