Today’s Parent Pipeline post was contributed by Larry Robertson, Longwood’s assistant vice president for student development and former dean of students.
Fall break is just around the corner—there will be no classes Oct. 7 and 8. Your student may be heading home for the first time this semester or, if they’re a freshman, for the first time since they headed off to college.
Just like any family vacation, especially when it’s been a while since everyone has lived together under the same roof, there can be a few pitfalls. Harmony can be achieved, however, with a little forethought and planning.
Since this post is for parents, here’s my Top 10 list of things to think about before your student comes through the door.
You may not be aware that you’ve become accustomed to your house being a little quieter since your student moved to campus. You will likely be amazed at how much extra noise their two feet can make—and a lot of that noise may be generated at night after you’ve gone to bed. Your student may have become a night owl.
Curfews can be a point of friction, but discussing this issue before your student comes home will go a long way toward an amicable solution. Remember they’ve been coming and going as they please for several weeks—but it’s still your home and you set the rules. Even if you don’t intend to set a curfew, you may want to remind your student to let you know where they are and when they plan to return.
Many of you may want to do your student’s laundry, and that is fine. However, some of you may want to remind them that they are capable of doing it for themselves. That’s OK, too. Again, it will help to discuss this before they get home.
Don’t plan too much. It’s a good idea to check first with your student to see what their plans are before completely filling their time at home with family activities. Your student may have plans to connect with friends. It might be better to choose one or two times designated for family activities and give your student some flexibility to do other things. If you plan to take them out for meals, avoid Chik-fil-A, Applebee’s and other restaurants that are in Farmville. Trust me—they are ready for something different.
Be prepared to see some changes in your child’s behavior, though they will probably be minor. They might have new favorite foods (sushi, for example), new favorite snacks (Flaming Hot Cheetos, for example), new exercise routines or even be using Longwood lingo you’re not familiar with (“The Wood,” “CHI,” “D-hall,” etc.). Don’t be afraid to ask them to explain. Also be aware that they may have incorporated some colorful language into their vocabulary.
Try not be alarmed if they come home with a noticeable change in appearance, like a new hair color, bangs, a new tattoo or a new piercing. This is very common among college students. They may just be looking for a way to assert their newfound “freedom.”
Some students may bring home loads of homework. These students may have procrastinated or suddenly realized that midterms are fast approaching. If this is your student, encourage them to take some breaks and relax a little. Some students may not bring home any homework at all. Depending upon the classes they’re taking and their personal study habits, they may have stayed on top of their assignments. If this is your student, don’t pry or nag, but ask them what midterms they have coming up. Or you may be able to find out how they’re doing by asking them about their favorite and least favorite classes.
It’s not uncommon at this point in the semester for students to share that they are struggling in a class or that they are thinking about changing their major. Encourage them to talk to their professors during office hours or after class. Remind your student that help is available through tutoring and the Writing Center.
If you hear the words “I am failing,” ask for clarification. Your student may think they are failing when they really have a C. Or they might be concerned about earning an A minus. In some cases, it may be important to remind them that doing their best doesn’t always mean being perfect.
October can be a difficult time for a lot of new college students. In addition to adapting to their new life at college, they’re also starting to realize that life is continuing at their high school without them and their friends at other colleges are having different experiences. It may seem that everyone else is changing. What they don’t realize is that they’re changing, too. Be prepared for them to be quieter or seem down. You can ask them how they’re feeling, but don’t be surprised if they don’t know what’s wrong. It’s all well within the range of normal.
Finally, don’t forget to have some fun with your student over fall break. And don’t be surprised if you’re somewhat relieved to have the house back to yourself when they return to school. That’s within the range of normal as well.