It’s that time of year when college kids are home for winter break. As parents anticipate children returning, they can idealize what the experience will look like. Parents, especially newly minted college parents, may have unrealistic expectations, which can lead to frustration and disappointment, an Ashburn psychotherapist says.
Dianne Andruzzi, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist with Triangle Counseling Services in Ashburn, has college kids of her own.
Her advice to fellow parents: “You may need to adjust your vision of this winter break.”
Likely, their time home won’t be the “fantasy world” you have in mind.
In an email interview, Andruzzi shares tips on how to navigate the holidays with those children who are home from college.
Give Them Space
“You may not see them much while they are home. They will sleep until 2 p.m. and want to see their old friends in the little time they are awake. What looks like loafing, though, is actually a much-needed respite from the incessant chaos of college life,” she says.
“Don’t judge how they spend their time, but also don’t be afraid to have expectations of them. You can expect help with things like picking up a forgotten item from the store or unloading the dishwasher.”
She suggests asking for help with specific tasks, preferably things that are not urgent.
And don’t nag: “Express appreciation and move on.”
Unless something really concerns you, Andruzzi says, “Try to save long lectures about things until summertime.”
Revisit the Rules
“When they come home from school, they are straddling the gap between the child they were and the adult they are becoming, and it is not always pretty,” she says.
Your perfectly decorated foyer may now be full of luggage and dirty laundry. There are empty milk cartons in the fridge, size 13 sneakers in the middle of the floor, and all of the phone chargers have disappeared.
Yet, at the same time your kids are reverting to their old habits, they are also eager to keep their newfound freedom, and their college hours.
Parents need to practice patience.
“People coming and going at 2 a.m. may not mesh with your preferred 10:30 p.m. bedtime, yet you feel you cannot go to sleep until everyone is safely home and in bed,” she says.
“Don’t be surprised by the late-night snacking when you think they should be sleeping; their schedules are definitely different now than they were. Make the choices that you need to make for curfew, closing the kitchen, etc., but remember that you do actually have a young adult and not a child to consider. Nothing starts until 10 p.m. or later in college, and they just want to spend time with friends. You will get your clean counters and early bedtime back soon enough.”
Meet Them Where They Are
With holidays and family time, Andruzzi says “we place a lot of expectations on how that time will look. It is likely that you will feel like you competed with a lot of other factors over break for your kid’s attention: old high school friends, endless sleep/relaxation needs, and various shopping and appointments.”
While it may feel like the winter break is over all too quickly, she says you can take advantage of unexpected times to connect.
“Try sitting at the kitchen counter with your starving kids at 1 a.m. and you may find they are very chatty about what is going on in their lives,” she says.
“Be OK with sitting on the couch in the same room, just spending time together, without setting a lofty goal for information exchange or conversation. Remember to tell your kids that they are loved, and find something that they are doing/being that you can say makes you proud.”
While they are home, make sure you record the moment.
“Take a lot of pictures and give a lot of hugs,” she says. “They will be back at school before you know it.”
Feature image by pikselstock/stock.adobe.com
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