Soon, college students will head home for winter break. Along with their luggage, laundry and craving for home-cooked meals, they’ll bring a growing sense of independence shaped by their campus life at St. Edward’s. 

While students look forward to quality time with their family during the holidays, they’re also fiercely protective of their personal freedom. The structure, curfews and family responsibilities that applied to them before heading to college have shifted. Away from home, they’ve been making decisions for themselves 24/7. So don’t be surprised if having your student back under your roof requires some adjustments.

How should families navigate the challenges that often occur when their student returns home? We asked a cross section of students at St. Edward’s ― from freshmen to seniors ― for their advice to parents on setting practical expectations. Here are their tips for enjoying the holiday break to the fullest.

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1. Be flexible.

Your college student’s daily routine (sleeping, eating, relaxing and socializing) will be different than when they lived at home, and may not align with the family routine. Adjusting to your student’s independence requires flexibility and patience. Allow students to pursue the holiday routine they desire, but don’t hesitate to ask about them about their plans and whereabouts. Eventually, you’ll find the right balance that works for you and your student.

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2. Let them sleep.

December holidays are hectic for everyone, and they’re even more so for college students. They’re coming home after a stressful time of completing papers, projects and final exams. Most likely, they’re feeling exhausted and are looking forward to sleeping in the comfort of their own bed. Let them sleep as much as they want, especially the first few days. They need time to recover from late nights of studying and residence-hall life, and to re-acclimate to being home.

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3. Give plenty of space.

Even though students are happy to be home and want to spend time with their family, they don't need you to be with them every minute of the day. Understand that they want be in control of their own free time ― to relax, see friends, stay out late, play on their cellphone and binge on Netflix. It’s important to give them the wiggle room they need. Show your patience and trust by not making huge demands of their time.

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4. Allow conversations to flow naturally.

Have a conversation with your student without pressuring them to tell you everything at once. The more natural the discussions and light-hearted the questions, the less it will feel like an interrogation on every detail of their life. Talk about yourselves and the family rather than focusing all of your attention on them. If a more important and lengthy family discussion is necessary, plan it over a meal, and let your student know ahead of time what you want to discuss. Also, most college students are comfortable talking with their parents about their classes and academic activities, but they might consider their social life off limits ― unless they bring up the topic.

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5. Adjust responsibilities.

It’s reasonable for parents to expect their student to help out with holiday preparations, do their own laundry or keep their bedroom in order. But don’t expect them to automatically assume the same chores and responsibilities they had while living at home, such as housework, running errands, preparing meals or looking after younger siblings. Allow your student’s own plans and priorities to outweigh those former responsibilities. And if you’re really counting on their help, make it a request, not a demand.

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6. Make it meaningful.

In the long run, doing the things your student enjoys the most creates the times that mean the most to them. Sharing a favorite meal, splurging on a special dessert, attending family events and allowing them to invite friends they haven't seen in a while to the house are examples of what makes a real difference.

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7. Be prepared to say goodbye.

No matter how great a time the holidays offer, students will be eager to head back to campus, their college routine and friends. And that’s a good thing! It shows that they’re making the most of their college experience. Send them on their way with your love, trust and support.