Making the Most of Winter Break
I’ve heard from many students how much they look forward to being away from the academic rigors during Winter break and how they can’t wait to be back home. From other students, I’ve heard that they miss people back home but are feeling like the break will be hard because it’s their first holiday season since the death of a loved one. Each situation offers its own unique challenges, but whatever the circumstances of your student’s return home, I hope you and your student are able to reconnect in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling during this extended period of time together.
One way to make the most of Winter break is to make sure that you and your student are “on the same page.” One simple and easy way to approach this is to discuss what each of you expect from this Winter break. By initiating this open conversation, you provide an opportunity for both of you to share how you would like the break to go and then allow space for compromise so that as many needs as possible can be met. Having this conversation is a particularly helpful way to ensure that each of you get some important needs and wants met. Within this conversation, I suggest keeping in mind that students often have a hard time letting their parents know that they want to divide their time among various family members and friends. I encourage you to spend quality time reconnecting with your student while remembering how important other social connections are for your student so that you can do not take it personally when your student wants to spend some time with others.
Another thing for both parents and students to keep in mind is that Winter break may not happen a certain way. It’s important to recognize that life is not as it used to be when your student lived at home. Interactions may not feel exactly the same, and even living under the same roof for a longer period of time may feel really different. Noticing these differences can be unsettling, but I contend that these experiences are completely “normal” (whatever “normal” might be!). Even though you and your student have had many years together, your relationship is different now. While the changes are exciting in many ways because you are able to see your student maturing into the adult you always knew s/he would become, it can feel uncomfortable at times because you may feel like you have a stranger in your home. Please remember that your student is still the same great person and is now simply becoming his/her own individual. These are some of the growing pains that come along with parenting, not always easy but worthwhile in the long run.
Communication, as you may have already guessed, is one of the most challenging parts of reconnecting for the Winter break. For those of you who could stand to “beef up” your communication skills, (which honestly, let’s admit it, most of us could stand a refresher) here are a few helpful suggestions:
- Do your best to facilitate open dialogues with your student so that you can learn more about what is happening in his/her life. Asking open ended questions is one way to promote conversations. If you want to know how your student liked the Fall term, ask, “How was the Fall term?” rather than asking, “Did you like the Fall term?” I know it sounds simple, but you’ll be amazed at how rephrasing a word or two can lead to much deeper conversations that allow you to feel like you’re truly reconnecting with your student.
- Another helpful reminder is to remember to use “I” statements, which are phrases that allow you to share your impression of what’s going on without making your student feel attacked. An example is saying, “I miss having you around” instead of “Why aren’t you ever here anymore?” If you think about it from your own perspective, which sentence would you rather hear? And which one would make you more open to actually pursuing a conversation with someone?
- A final helpful communication tidbit is about empathizing with what your student shares, which simply means letting your student know that you grasp what they are saying. No, that doesn’t mean agreeing with everything your student says; it means listening to what s/he says and letting him/her know that you’ve really heard what’s being said. If your student shares that it’s hard to get to bed before 2 a.m. on weeknights, instead of jumping to problem-solving or assumptions, you could say something like, “It sounds like you’re finding it hard to have a regular bedtime at college. What’s going on that makes it so tough?” Not only does this reconnect you to your student because s/he feels heard, it could also lead into a conversation in which your student is able to talk with you on a completely different level because s/he feels able to share more about his/her college experience.
In closing, I know that some of these suggestions for how to make the most of Winter break may sound a bit stiff as you read them. Trust me, though, when you put them into practice, you’ll be amazed at the results. I hope everyone has a wonderful break and a chance to reconnect with your student. Best of luck with making the most of your time.
Brandy Smith, M.S. (former intern at the Counseling and Testing Center)