Whether your family celebrates Thanksgiving or not, college students will have some days off this coming week. Many of them will be spending time with family. If your student will be joining you for some or all of the week, you are likely (and understandably) eager to see them after weeks away, excited to hear how things are going, and interested in knowing what they are thinking about their future. Regardless of what your student is saying aloud, most are seeking (and, quite frankly needing) a reprieve from the exhausting demands of the semester and are eager to “chill out.”
Encourage them to put the books away
Support them in not doing any coursework unless it is absolutely necessary. If they have a sound reason for doing coursework over break (because let’s face it, there will be some students who are behind as well as faculty who scheduled an exam or project deadline for November 28th :/), let them decide when they will do work and for how long they will work. This short break is not a time to micromanage or hover over their academics. Remember, they have been away at school for weeks and either they have been managing their business or not.
Nothing wrong with being a couch potato
Encourage them to give themselves permission to take a break and have down time. Support them in eating well and getting plenty of rest. It can’t be overstated how sleep deprived college students are, particularly this late in the semester. Emphasize that taking time to restore their energy and focus on self-care this break will pay dividends the last few weeks of the semester. Remind them they are likely to stay healthy and be more effective and efficient during the final push of the semester if they recharge now.
Follow their lead and keep it low key
As much as you are interested in how they are doing academically, what they are doing (in and out of their courses), and their current thinking about their future (whether it be the upcoming summer or after they graduate), resist the urge to ask many, if any, questions. If they initiate these types of conversations, use your active listening skills and don’t press for more information than they seem eager to share. Your student will enjoy their visit much more if they have control over the conversations and don’t have to talk about issues that stress them out. Give them space, honor their independence, encourage them to see friends, and talk about low pressure, light-hearted topics. Offer to cook a favorite meal or to do one or two fun activities that were common as a family when they were living at home. If they decline, don’t take it personally, they are likely enjoying not being overly scheduled.
From my experience, what they need from loved ones over this short break is space to get rest, connect with family and friends, and reminders that they have your unwavering love and support. Don’t worry, winter break is only a few weeks away. This longer break will provide better opportunities for your student to decompress, reflect, and then engage with you about their experiences, challenges, hopes and dreams. In the meantime, wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!
How do you encourage your student to relax and recharge? What ideas do you have about supporting college students over this short break?
Beth A. Howland is a higher education consultant and college student success coach based in Ithaca, NY. She is the founder of College Navigators, LLC.