Welcome back from college! Who are you and what have you done with my child?
Parents welcoming a college freshman back into the home following a successful first semester may find a very different person upon returning home. Hopefully, the first semester has been a resounding success from an academic, extracurricular, and social perspective. New knowledge, experiences, and friendships can all be contributing factors for increased maturity and personal growth. However, even in the best cases, it’s important to keep in mind that your child has been largely independent and self-reliant for the past four months. Although this is a positive, it can also result in the return home becoming difficult for your child and for you.
Conflicts – Things that may have been taken for granted when they were “under your roof” full-time – such as curfews, chores, punishments, etc., may no longer be accepted without question. These potential triggers can cause conflicts largely due to differences in expectation. For instance, coming home at 4 a.m. and waking up the whole house with efforts to “be quiet and make a pizza” is a real-life example of what a new normal might look like if not addressed appropriately.
When things feel too easy –Particularly for the “helicopter parents,” beware of backsliding into old habits, which can be counterproductive to the overall goal of individuation. That being said, old habits do die hard – especially if it is one that helps you feel supportive and re-involved in the life of your child. If you haven’t already done so, consider using this time as a way to create a different style of interaction between the two of you.
Unfortunately, not all college students have completely successful first semesters. Some young adults have a difficult time adapting to collegiate life or coping with its stressors. If this is the case, it is important to look for and ask about signs of distress, depression, anxiety and take action accordingly. Encourage them to contact the college counseling center, discuss things with their pediatrician or local mental health clinician. And in some cases, consider the possibility of taking a break from college to work on their challenges. This scenario is certainly in the minority of cases, but is not uncommon and should be treated seriously if necessary.
In addressing these various issues, keep in mind the most important factor for success is communication. Discuss the specifics with your returning college student. What are their expectations for when they return home? What should be different from the way things were before leaving in the summer? The same? What happens when there are disagreements regarding behavior? Holding these discussions allows for continued healthy development of independence and separation. Remember, this is the ultimate goal!