When Your Student Can’t Get Home for Thanksgiving

It’s almost Thanksgiving Break. Students all across the country are preparing to head home for some rest, home cooked meals, and a bit of family time. Parents all across the country are anticipating, bracing themselves, and reading the many articles about what to expect when their student comes home for this important first visit.

But there are some students, and their families, for whom this Thanksgiving will be different. Perhaps your student is attending school too far away to get home for this relatively short break. Perhaps your student can’t afford the costs of travel. Perhaps your student has a job or other commitments that will keep them on campus for this holiday or is an athlete who needs to remain to play an important game.

It may be a difficult time for all of you.

What can parents do?

If your student is one of the many students who won’t be heading home this Thanksgiving, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind:

  • Remember that Thanksgiving Break is short anyway, and the longer Winter Break is only a few weeks away.
  • Check in with your student to see how they feel about not coming home. Don’t waste time worrying about how your student is feeling if they’re actually fine with not being home right now. Although they may miss being home, they may enjoy the opportunity to practice some new independence.
  •  Remember that, although the holiday can be wonderful, it can also be hectic and difficult. Your student may simply enjoy a few days without classes, a time to enjoy some peace and quiet and “me time,” and an opportunity to catch up on some work.
  •  Send your student a special Thanksgiving care package to arrive just before Break. (Remember that some college mail services may not be available during Break, so get your package there before Break begins.) Include food, of course, but also consider a Thanksgiving card, a fun book, a Thanksgiving craft project, a gift card to a local restaurant or store, perhaps a manicure or massage, a new game, or maybe even your Christmas list in case your student wants to do some shopping!
  •  Ask your student how they’d like to communicate over the holiday. Do they want to Facetime or Skype with the whole family on the holiday or would they prefer a few quieter calls from individual family members? That big everyone-at the-table Facetime call may be difficult for your student if they’re feeling a little homesick. They’ll appreciate your desire to honor their preferences.

What about your student?

Here are a few thoughts to pass along to your student:

  • Your student may have the opportunity to go home with a friend for the holiday or at least join a local friend for Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Some colleges work hard to provide Thanksgiving dinner opportunities for students who remain on campus. Local families volunteer to host a student, faculty and staff members invite students to join them. This could be a wonderful opportunity for your student to make some new connections.
  • Your student may be able to use some of this time to travel locally and see some places they don’t have time to visit during the busy semester.
  • Suggest that your student find out what will be available on campus during Break. Will the residence halls be open or must they leave campus? Do they need to submit a special request to remain on campus? Will dining services be available? Is there a way to find out who else will be on campus? Does the college plan any special activities, events, or trips for those who remain at school?
  • Perhaps your student can gather together with other students to create a “Friendsgiving” dinner.
  • Suggest that your student find somewhere to volunteer and think about others for Thanksgiving. Is there a local food pantry or organization that serves dinner to the homeless or others?

If this is the first time that your student will be away for a big family holiday, it will be a big adjustment for everyone. With some forethought, lots of communication, and the reminder that another break isn’t far off, everyone can have a good – although different – Thanksgiving holiday.

Related posts:

Don’t Talk to Your Student This Thanksgiving!

Welcoming Your College Student Home for Break

What Parents Can Do to Support Their College Student Studying Abroad

Cheering Your College Student On From a Distance

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5 thoughts on “When Your Student Can’t Get Home for Thanksgiving”

  1. Hello.
    My grandson is staying at the dorm alone for Christmas. He was living with his aunt who refuses to get him because she found out he talk to me.
    She has a grudge against me and I guest she expects him to have one.
    I sent him a care package and he told the aunt that I sent him one. Because if that she told him he could not stay with her anymore and refuses to pick him up from campus. He’s there alone. I’m on a fix income. So I don’t have the funds to get him. What can I do. I’m worried.

    • Cornelia – This is an emotionally difficult situation all around. I hope you got through the holiday OK. I hope you and your family are able to work something out in the future. The positive is that these days with all of our technology, we are able to stay closely in touch with our friends and family even if they can’t be with us. Sending care packages is a wonderful idea – keep it up. Just little things that say “I’m thinking of you.” Continue to do that and stay in touch with your grandson as much as you can. Facetime or Zoom are a great way to stay close. It’s not perfect, but we learned a lot through the pandemic – both about new ways to connect and about our resilience. Your grandson will know how much you care, and that goes a long way.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Shawn. You are absolutely correct. It is a good reminder. For those families who will be gathering, and whose student will be coming home, it is a reminder to reach out. If your student knows someone who doesn’t have a place to go for the holiday, it’s a perfect opportunity to invite them to join your family celebration.

  3. There are many students who are homeless or aged out of foster care and have no home to go to for the Holidays or during pandemics and hurricanes.

    • Shawn – This is so true. We all need to be aware of this and reach out in any ways that we can. Even small gestures can go a long way. Inviting these students to your home is great if you can do it, but not everyone can. But learning more about this issue and reaching out when possible can help all of us.


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