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Home for the Holidays

Cozy Winter Break Conversations

CollegiateParent


You won’t have all these chats by the fireside of course! They’ll happen in the kitchen, in the car, at the gym or the mall, and while walking the dog or building a snowman.

Whether you and your student will check in about practical things like grades, their budget or roommates, or dive into heavier topics, we’ve got tips to help you navigate these important conversations.

Roommates

Your student may be at school for a week, a month or even a year before they have a roommate issue, but it’s bound to happen at some point. 

Most of the time, roommate conflict is short-lived. In other cases, the drama can be more complicated. If your student shares details, feel free to offer sympathy and advice but remember that they should resolve these disagreements on their own. Learning to get along with all kinds of people is part of the growing up process.

Encourage your student to address any concerns first with their roommate. If things don’t improve, they can enlist the help of their RA (Resident Assistant/Advisor). And point out that getting along is a two-way street — your student is responsible for communicating and adapting as well.

A couple of helpful reads: 10 Types of  College Roommates, An RA’s Best Tips for Helping Roommates Get Along and What to Consider When Choosing Next Year's Roommate.

Academic Adjustments

Of course, you’ll want to talk to your student about how school is going. What was their favorite subject last term, and where could they use help? Should they make it a goal to be more proactive in the future: go to faculty office hours, join study groups and find a tutor when needed?

Learning to Manage Time

The “time budget” conversation is a valuable one to have now that they’ve spent a semester at school and can recognize the importance (and challenge) of good time management.

Help your student create a time budget. How can they best align how they spend their time with their goals and priorities?

  • Suggest they start by keeping a time inventory for a week when they get back to campus. They’ll log the minutes and hours they spend on each daily activity: studying, working, going to class, eating, sleeping, using social media, hanging out with friends, etc. The object isn’t to pass judgment, but simply to see how they currently use their time so they can make the adjustments they need to be successful students.
  • An old-fashioned planner is more useful than ever in college. Encourage your student to buy one at the campus bookstore or any office supply store, or pop one into their stocking.

Check in about their tech, too. Can they count on their current laptop to make it through the year? Students still using an older high school laptop may be overdue for an upgrade. A new laptop or tablet could be in order for Christmas or Chanukah, or a backup hard drive or new charger.

Money Check-In

Winter break is a perfect time to assess your student’s bank balance. Together, look at how much money they spent each month this past fall, and on what. Did they stick to their budget?

In general, do they appear to have enough spending money to cover food outside the meal plan, toiletries, clothes and school supplies? What about extra expenses like going out to eat with friends or to the movies?

If they’re not making ends meet, or if they have a goal to save up funds for something big like a spring break trip, major adjustments may be needed. Sometimes just a little belt tightening is in order and they may recognize that they’re spending too much on coffee and snacks.

Our budgeting worksheet might be exactly what you and your student need to realign your financial expectations and stay on budget for the rest of the school year.

If your student needs an on- or off-campus job to help pick up the slack next semester, here’s how you can help them with the job search.

Drinking and Drug Use

College is the first time most freshmen have lived away from home. Many find themselves making tough decisions on their own for the first time.

One challenge that every generation of college students seems to face is the social pressure to drink and experiment with drugs. From a distance, you can’t control what your student does in their spare time. But keeping a dialogue going about drugs and alcohol can be key to helping your student make better, healthier choices. Their visits home offer a terrific opportunity to talk about their social life and how they are managing stress.

The holiday party season brings extra risks and temptations. Make sure you’re clear about rules you expect your student to follow when they’re out with friends or socializing in your home, and especially if/when they’ll be driving. Remind them they can always call you if they need a ride — or take Uber or Lyft.

You’re not alone if you tend to avoid some of these complex and difficult topics. Find helpful talking tips here.

Personal Safety

By this point in the year, your student has acclimated to their new routine and environment. That makes it the perfect time to check in about what they do on a daily basis to keep themselves safe. Are there places near campus they shouldn’t walk, jog or bike? Are they good about using the buddy system?

You can help by supplying good advice and the best safety tools available. Make sure your student has a personal safety app on their smartphone and share this essential safety checklist.

Healthy Relationships

When your student was in high school, you were probably in the habit of talking about relationships and dating (even if these conversations weren’t always comfortable). You knew their boyfriend or girlfriend if they had one, and the friends they socialized with.

Typically once college starts, parents are in the dark about their students’ romantic relationships. And students often want to keep it that way!

Nevertheless, it’s important to keep talking about sexual health and consent, and you can do this while respecting your student’s privacy.

You might talk in a general way about the social scene on campus and their new friends (is there anyone special?). News stories can springboard a discussion — campus sexual assault continues to be a big issue. Your student will be able to tell you about the culture on their campus, and how they’re proactive in their own behavior.

Make sure they know that if they’re sexually active, they can get check-ups, contraception and advice at the campus health center. They can also get mental/emotional health support at the counseling center for issues relating to personal relationships, or any other college life pressures.

Lingering Homesickness

If your student was homesick earlier in the school year but has hit their stride, you’re probably feeling pretty good. But if your daughter or son is still struggling to find a place on campus, you will share that pain.

It may help to know that it takes many students a full semester, or even a year, to settle in and feel at home and happy in college — even if they enrolled at their “dream” school.

A burned-out student may brighten up after a few restful weeks at home. However, if your student insists they don’t want to return to campus in January and would rather take time off or transfer, you’ll need to listen and be supportive while helping them dig into why they’re not satisfied with their college experience.

There are practical and financial as well as personal considerations when taking such a step. Together you can come up with an action plan. Here are helpful suggestions for transfer/time off conversations.

The Most Important Chats to Have?

The relaxed ones about books, movies, sports, clothes, food...and how great it is just to be together.

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