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Their Back – Time to Check-in

Their Back – Time to Check-in

by Tom O'Hare | Dec 21, 2023 

The first semester of the new college school year is in the books. Finals are over, grades will be posted, and for many students they will learn how their transition to college life is progressing. It’s time for the Christmas break!

Christmas is a beautiful time. It is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the holiday spirit. For new first-year college students, the break is a vital time to relax, refuel, and re-energize. For many, this first significant break is a time to question their college path and whether they will be successful.

For parents, the Christmas break is their first time to be with their student for any extended time since move-in day. There are many questions to explore regarding a student’s new college experience. College academics, study demands, roommates, and social life are just a few pressing thoughts a parent has about their new college freshman.

Parents, too, are excited to see their students. As the dad myself (four), I have arrived on campus anxious to learn everything, only to be greeted by a month’s worth of laundry and an exhausted human being. Thoughts of talking to my daughter or son about classes, professors, clubs, and social activities on the ride home turned to silence as they slept, and I stressed!

Students returning home during this extended break bring a variety of emotions and excitement with them. Minds are full of accomplishments, good times, names of new friends, and thoughts about next semester.

Pause the Questions

Challenging courses, issues with fitting in, food selection, and other concerns can affect students. Even the slightest negative feeling of not being the best can create anxiety. Understanding how to approach the conversation is a challenge for any parent.

Parents instead need to restrain the impulse to press for details and turn on their good listening skills. Yes, the instinct is to inquire and even push for information. Your students react like they have entered the jury box and are about to go through an inquest.

Instead, resist the temptation, listen, take mental notes, and watch for behavioral changes. Celebrate the holiday. There will be time to open up the conversation. Students who are struggling want to talk; it’s just a matter of timing!

6 ways to avoid conflicts with your returning college student.– Psychology Today

After They Recharge

You will find that once a student has had a chance to recharge their battery with food and sleep and a few phone calls to catch up with their close high school friends, the signal will flash that it is time for the conversation. How you begin will be critical to the outcome. You may have covered the topics during Thanksgiving, but things may still be happening. Ask open-ended questions, not those that allow for a yes or no answer.

  • What new professor or class are you finding interesting?
  • Tell me about a new classmate that you have met.
  • How is the food in the dining hall? How does it compare to my cooking?
  • What interesting clubs have you checked out?
  • What course gave you the hardest time?
  • What has changed since Thanksgiving?

From their reactions, you should have a line on whether you should dig deeper. If the combination of your observations and conversation leads you to believe there might be some more concern, superficial or severe, then it’s time. If needed, plan a second time to talk and reassure them that whatever the turn of the page offers, they have 100% support and that things will be OK.

Returning To Campus

Students returning to campus typically bring clean laundry, snacks, and forgotten items from when they initially moved in. As they return, it is also important for students to understand that they have resources to help overcome obstacles BUT thy need to be their own personal advocate –  Resources if needed:

  • A visit to the Academic Support Center to seek out help with overcoming a drop-in grade, help with time management or writing skills.
  • Resident Life to manage dorm room and roommate concerns**
  • The Dining Hall Manager discuss dietary needs
  • Visit Student Life and Student Affairs to search out Clubs, Organizations, and even a part-time job.

** Dorm Room concerns that may require a request for a room transfer or new roommate should be handles during the break!

Parents, your role is to tether the line a wee bit to allow your students to take the lead to empower themselves. However, if a concern requires your assistance, don’t wait. Coaching and guiding your students through an issue whiling monitoring a positive outcome is critical.

Finally, a lot of parents express concern about “never hearing from my student”. Before a student returns to campus work out a plan on when to connect. Reassure your student your not looking to invade their new level of maturity, but you want to hear how things are going. Whether texting or call figure our frequency and time. Peace of mind to all.

When May rolls along, and your student has returned after having a successful year, all you’ll need to ask is, where are you working this summer

Foot Note: The average withdrawal rate of 1st year students has risen by 8.1% to 28.1% nationally with over 43% of all students who start never finishings. Academic readiness, ability to pay college costs and social/emotional wellbeing of a student are the three most common reason why student leave. Keeping an open dialog, using resources and staying ahead of concerns can keep a student progressing to their end goal – a degree. .

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