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Negotiating Tensions Through Winter Break with a College Student Home for the Holidays

The holiday season brings about plenty of stress as parents of young adult college students prepare for winter break. When college students return home for winter break, they tend to bend the rules. After all, it’s hard to get back into the parent-child perimeters, after being out on your own. Often, when kids come home from college, break-long blow-ups begin. Arguments erupt about time spent with friends, curfews, and alcohol consumption.

To ease the tension throughout winter break, parents should plan on negotiating with their college students. This means parents might either have to loosen up a little, or, at times, will have to firmly, yet fairly, set boundaries of acceptable behavior.

What do you expect?

Parents should consider their expectations for homebound students, prior to the beginning of break. Determine if the expectations are reasonable, consider what your college student had in mind, and negotiate to settle on something you both agree on.

For example, a parent wants to spend 24/7 with a home-for-the holiday college student, and schedules family frenzies for every weekend of winter break. But, while talking on the phone, the parent hears excitement in her daughter’s voice, as she gabs about reuniting with her friends during winter break.  At that moment, the parent realizes it is irrational for her young adult daughter to be with family every free moment. The parent considers how important it is to her child to spend time with her hometown friends during the holidays. So, the parent decides to negotiate. By allowing plenty of free time, but also making it clear which specific family functions the college student is expected to attend, the parent lessened family tension by means of negotiation.

Set firm standards

Before winter break hits, decide what household rules will be firmly enforced. Think about how you and your household should be respected, in terms of curfews and alcohol consumption. Talk with your young adult ahead of time, giving specific examples of what behaviors will not be tolerated, like coming home drunk after the 4am bars close, driving the family car while intoxicated, or underage drinking.  If the student is of drinking age, perhaps you negotiate the terms for moderate alcohol use.

When tension turns troublesome

Pay attention to your young adult’s drinking patterns while they are home on winter break. Tensions turn troublesome when young adults continuously and carelessly disregard the limitations in place for moderate alcohol consumption. If you’ve noticed a decline in your young adult’s normal functioning, it may be time to enlist some help.  For some, this means taking a semester off to enroll in a program like the Addiction Services Program at Yellowbrick.

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