Your Students Are Coming Home for Break: Be Prepared
By Scott A. Oliver and Merrill Magruder
Just a few short months ago, you left your students at Ole Miss. You helped them move in, kissed and hugged them, encouraged them to make good decisions, and maybe even cried a little as you traveled back home without them. For some of you, this was a big step. For others, you may have been celebrating. Regardless of your circumstances, having a child go to college is a transition – for you and for your students.
By now, though, you and your students have probably become pretty comfortable and made some adjustments to how your lives operate on a daily basis. You have had to learn and transition to life in your home without your students being there. Siblings may have gained a new room or status. You may have learned to fill open time with new hobbies and activities. Or, this may be your last child to go off to college, and you may be dealing with having an empty nest, so to speak. Whatever the situation, we know you have been making adjustments.
Likewise, your students have been learning and adjusting too. In addition to going to class, they have been taking advantage of all that college has to offer. They have been learning about making adult-type decisions such as managing time and money, engaging with and living with a roommate, determining who they want their friends to be or even doing their own laundry.
They have also been making decisions for themselves about things like having or not having a curfew, getting involved or not with campus organizations, determining how to manage money, and that oh-so-important decision – getting up and going to class. They have also been learning that consequences, both good and not-so-good, usually accompany the decisions they make.
Along with all these things, your students may also have participated in recruitment and have been learning about balancing fraternity or sorority involvement as an added part of their college experience. Needless to say – they have had a lot going on.
The fall 2018 semester is officially winding down, and students are preparing to go back home for a couple of extended breaks. Mostly all of our students are excited and ready for classes to be over so they can go home. As you prepare to welcome your students back home, read these tips to help you – and your students – effectively manage and enjoy their break time with you.
- Developing Plans. Your students have been making their own decisions about their schedules for months – don’t disregard this. They have likely done a pretty good job at managing their time. It may be helpful to involve them in planning for the family and for their break – rather than developing their plans for them. It will likely make them feel like you respect them as an adult and that they are empowered to be part of the planning process. Some students, though, may genuinely not care about this. Test the waters.
- Sleeping. Don’t be surprised that your students will want to sleep when they get home. They may want to sleep A LOT. They are catching up from late nights and long hours. In some cases they will have just finished exams. There is probably nothing wrong with them. Let them sleep. Let them rest, and give them a day or so to adjust. However, it is OK for you to expect that they will try to adjust to a normal sleep schedule while home. Staying out all night and sleeping throughout the day just may not be acceptable.
- Family Time vs. Friend Time. Sometimes families may believe students should be home to see them. It’s OK for you to expect that they spend time at family events and activities, but take some time to have an adult discussion about what those are on the front end. This will help your students plan their schedule and balance time that they may want to spend with friends when they return home. Understand that friend time is necessary – especially if your students went away to college and their friends did not go with them.
- Talking about School. Though you have probably talked with your students on the phone daily or have been actively texting them since they left home, talking about school during the break can be – well – interesting. Some students may want to tell you everything they’ve been doing, while others may not think you care. Ask them. Listen to them. Listen to what are they saying and not saying. Think about asking questions that are open-ended and allow them to answer something other than yes or no.
- The Money Talk. Spend time during the break talking about money – if you need to. How have your students been managing the money you have allocated to them? You may need to talk at some point during the break about adjustments that may be necessary.
- The Grades Talk. Grades, ah grades! Grades are merely one method of evaluating success in college. Unfortunately, though, they are the primary method. Being home is a time to begin talking about grades. Genuinely talk with your students about where they “stand” grade-wise. They should know, and they should have a sense about how they will finish the semester. They may feel like you are accusing or attacking them. So this may be an area to approach carefully. It is not a time for threats, and it’s not a time for limiting your encouragement. Talk about expectations you may have for grades – and it IS OK for you to have expectations as a parent. If grades are lower than expected, talk – without getting angry or argumentative – about how your students could improve their grades in the coming semester. Help them to develop a plan for success. Think about and know about campus resources that may be helpful prior to their arrival at home.
- Returning to College. The general expectation that your students will return to school should be a given. But sometimes, students begin to talk and think about not returning to college during the break. This happens for various reasons. I encourage you to not just let your students float around or talk about not returning to school for the spring semester. Being at home may make your students feel a little homesick or that they are missing things that are happening at home and with people that they care about. Asking questions may be helpful here, and remembering to listen is very important! Why do they want to leave school – are they homesick? Are they not feeling successful in school? Are they connecting well at school? Are they missing friends/family? Are they feeling like things are “out of control”? It is important to listen to your students. Options should be discussed – e.g., sticking it out until May or adjusting course load – maybe changing their major or choosing a major – rather than simply throwing in the towel and quitting.
- Talking about Next Semester and Next Year. The break period is a good time to engage your students and begin talking about what they may want to do in the next semester or the next year. Consider things like: Where do they want to live – or with whom? Are they planning to study abroad or possibly serve as a community assistant (CA) in the residence halls? Are they planning or thinking about summer internships or possibly getting a job? All of these are very important questions – both for them and you. This is especially true if some of their plans will involve a financial commitment (e.g., studying abroad; see “The Money Talk” above).
- “IPOY” and “ILYSM.” Your students need to hear a couple of things from you while they are home. You should practice these statements and be prepared to use or insert them at appropriate times: “I am proud of you!” and “I love you so much.” Some of you may say them frequently, while some of you may perceive them as understood and “go without saying.” We contend that your students need to hear these things. Your students lead very busy and stressful lives. College is hard, their course work is demanding, and your expectations for success are undoubtedly high. You may consider such statements to be trite, but they help to ground your students. Students also like knowing that they have been missed while they were away at school.
It is a pleasure for us to serve and assist in the development of your students while they are here at Ole Miss. If anyone in the university family can be of service and support to you as you navigate the break period, please don’t hesitate to let us know. As you welcome your students back into your home for these breaks, may your time with them be filled with joy and truly cherished.
*Some bulleted items above have been adapted for this article from various sources of advice for parents about welcoming their students home for breaks.