"If you want your kids to feel comfortable spending time at home when they return from college, it's important to remember the typical life of a college student," says developmental psychologist Martha Hennessey, PhD. While at school, they go to bed and get up when they want to. They make their own decisions. They enjoyed privacy in communications and social relationships. While at first you may feel as though you're walking on eggshells, you can prevent a lot of drama with some honest, up-front communication.
Parenting expert and author Susan Tordella sent four kids off to college. College kids are not houseguests, says Tordella. They are contributing members of the family. As you adjust to their newfound independence, they have to remember how to respect you as a parent and the head of the household. With each child, Tordella held family meetings to talk about everyone's expectations on the three Cs: Communication, contributions and compromise.
Discuss how you and your child will communicate his comings and goings. While away at school, he could stay out all night if he felt like it, so forget about enforcing curfew. But if you're a parent who will be up worrying about him all night, ask him to at least call or text you by a certain hour that he's going to be very late or not home at all. And if he's using the family car, he should let you know in advance and return it clean and with the same amount of gas or more.
Respect your child's developing independence, says Hennessey, but don't allow her behavior at home to affect others who live there (yourself included). "If her music is too loud, or she offers to do something for you and doesn't follow through," Hennessey explains, "communicate your concerns. That's what her roommate would do, too."
If you want your college kid to pitch in around the house, give them responsibilities that are age-appropriate and suited to their personality. Treat him/her as a young adult rather than an older child.
"Keeping your child involved in the operation of the house is critical," says Tordella. Determine what contributions he'll make over the course of his break. What areas of the house will he clean? What night of the week will he help with dinner? What about grocery shopping or changing the oil in the car?
Continue to have family meetings to ensure you're all staying on track. "They must remember they are not at school; they are not independent adults," says Tordella. "They are young adults living at their family home."
Psychotherapist Maureen Tillman explains the irony surrounding a college student's return to the homestead. "The college experiences of freedom, making decisions and not having parents' watchful eyes add up to feeling independent and not wanting to be treated like a child," says Tillman. But parents still see the child-like behavior at home: Late-night partying, dishes in the sink and sleeping into the afternoon.
You and your child have to compromise on house rules and expectations as you establish a new relationship. Everything doesn't just return to the way it was when your child returns home.
Veronica Mayo didn't set herself up for disappointment. "Don't assume your student wants to participate in all the traditional family activities," says Mayo. "They've gotten used to making their own schedules."
"Figure it out together," says Hennessey. "You are all adults now!"
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