When my kids were high school age, a wise man (my father) once told me: peace and harmony require planning. He wasn’t a government diplomat or even a divorce lawyer, but a keen observer of human nature. “People are creatures of habit,” he would say, “so make sure you instill healthy ones.”
For families with kids about to go off to—or return home from—college, holiday break can be a time that brings out the best and the worst of habits. Hour upon hour spent in front of LCD screens. Sleeping until well past noontime. Yesterday’s dishes or food wrappers found in the oddest places. Quickly forgotten curfews. All of these “bad” behaviors can be tamed by planning ahead to practice a few good habits.
Establish respectful boundaries, respectfully. This means recognizing that your son or daughter is on a path to becoming an adult. Treat them like one and not the kid you still see them as. Too many expectations for how they spend their “off” time, too much attention, and too many questions can turn them away—especially those who have been away at college and on their own for awhile now.
Give them the “space” to manage their lives. Ask if they have any particular plans during the school break and get on the same page with what they and you want to do over the holidays. Let them get the sleep they likely need after extra hours spent studying and finishing up semester-end exams and projects. Ease them into a more normal household schedule by suggesting fun activities like going out for breakfast together.
Remind them of house rules. The best way to establish mutual respect for household rules and responsibilities is to remind your son or daughter how his or her actions impact others. Coming home all hours of the morning creates sleepless nights for mom and dad (bad for work the next day). Not to mention, the dog barking wakes up the whole neighborhood.
Touch base on the important stuff. Topics like roommate conflicts, drugs and alcohol, healthy eating habits, and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships can be difficult ones to discuss. But not discussing them won’t make them go away. Make time to approach these subjects in an appropriate way. Ask direct, straight forward questions. Keep your reactions in check. Nothing will shut down the conversation more quickly than you judging or disapproving of their actions. Listen and sincerely acknowledge what you hear (versus “blowing it off” with a too casual or dismissive remark). Remind them of your standards and the possible consequences. Keep the dialogue genuine and open.
Spend time just having fun. This can involve all kinds of activities and family traditions. Baking cookies or making favorite meals together. Catching a movie. Doing a little shopping for needed school items. Playing board games or cards with your kids and their friends. Simply getting outdoors for a good old-fashioned romp in the fresh air.
Above all, remember: holidays are family time. A little planning and open communication go a long way toward ensuring peace and harmony while the kids are home from school. Make this holiday season a memory you—and they—will cherish for years to come.