Winter Break. Most college students look forward to it – and they get increasingly impatient for it as the semester draws to a close. Students face deadlines they may have ignored, final papers, final projects, final exams, and a generally stressful few weeks as they finish up their term.
This year, the stress has increased as they attempted to do their work in masked and distanced classrooms, in hybrid settings or fully remote – either from home or from dorm rooms. It’s been a difficult semester for everyone.
This year, as we enter what many are telling us will be the darkest and most difficult winter we’ve faced, students may be anticipating Break more than ever. Students don’t want this Break, they need this Break. But Winter Break will not be business as usual this year. There may be minimal travel, fewer events, smaller family gatherings, less socializing, and students may have more time on their hands. This has been a year like no other, and it promises to be a Winter Break unlike anything we’ve known.
Whether your student is finally coming home or has been home all along, the next few weeks may prove challenging for everyone. But wherever you are and whatever your circumstances, most students need one thing as this semester draws to a close: time.
Not all time is the same
Your student may be home longer this winter, as many colleges end earlier than usual and many delay the start of spring semester. But no matter how long your student’s break from college, not all of their time should be the same. Students need different types of time to help them recharge from this “semester -like-no-other” and to prepare to move forward.
Nine kinds of time your student needs
If your student has been away at school, they should consider quarantining before fully settling in with the family. Some students may be able to do this before leaving campus, but most may need to wait until they arrive home.
Fortunately, the recommended time for quarantining has been shortened, and your student may only need to wait a few days; but wearing a mask and avoiding close contact with family members for a few days is a good idea. This will protect your family from anything your student may bring home; but will also protect your student from anything potentially in the family.
Being patient for a few days will give everyone peace of mind.
The end of the semester can be brutal for some students, and this year was an especially difficult time for everyone. Your student may come home and sleep for what seems like days. They may just want to binge watch their favorites, play video games, eat junk food, sleep some more and just hang out.
Winter Break is just that – a break. Remember that your student may need some time to recover from the pace and the stress of the last few days or weeks.
This one is so vital, and so difficult this year. More than anything, your student probably wants to get together with friends.
Help your student think about ways to do this safely. Zooming with friends while watching a movie or a sports event isn’t the same, but it at least helps friends connect. If the weather allows, encourage outside (masked and distanced) gatherings. Do you have a patio or firepit? Suggest gathering there – bundled up if necessary. Can a garage be repurposed with the door open to keep air circulating? Do what you can to help your student find safe – and at least somewhat satisfying ways to socialize with friends.
This year, more and more of our lives revolve around a screen – it’s often our lifeline to the rest of the world. Screens provide our entertainment, they give us access to our friends, family and colleagues, they allow us to shop, attend our classes or get our work done. We’re spending a lot of our lives in front of screens.
Help your student find some ways to take a break from their screen. (You may want to think about this for yourself as well.) Spend time with family – doing things, not just watching things. Get outdoors – walk, hike, bike, ski, swim – whatever the weather allows where you are. Play games. Read books. Dance. Do anything that helps you and your student take a break from technology.
Our gatherings may be smaller this year, but spending time with family is more important than ever. College students often eagerly anticipate the special holiday traditions that assure all of us that even though the world seems to be spinning out of control, some things have not changed. Talk to your student about what matters – cook together, bake together, decorate the house together, honor old traditions and start new ones. Pull out the old board games or find some new ones. Even if your student has been home all semester, they’ve been busy with school. Take advantage of some time now to just be together as a family.
Break can provide a great opportunity for your student to gain some perspective on how things went over the past semester. It’s time to examine those final grades and evaluate whether they should make some changes next semester. It’s a good time to think about career goals and steps to move in the right direction. Winter Break can be an important breath-catching time – a time to look backward before moving onward.
It’s great to have a break from routine and just kick back for a while. But, especially if your student has an extra long break, it’s important to have some structure, too. After your student has had some downtime to recoup, help them think about how they want to use their time over Break. Help them think about some goals or what they’d like to accomplish during these next few weeks. Keep it flexible; but help them plan a basic routine to provide some stability.
One reason to create some structure for Break is to allow your student to feel productive. If your student can achieve even one or two small goals, they can come to the end of this break feeling that they have accomplished something. This could be a good time for some informational interviews for your student to learn about a career, or a good time to complete next year’s FAFSA or apply for some new scholarships. It can be a good time to update a resume or begin to investigate possible summer jobs or internships. Just getting something done will help your student feel positive.
Being with family can be reassuring. Being with friends can be wonderful. But sometimes, a bit of alone time is important as well. Make sure you respect your student’s need for privacy as well as the need to take an occasional break from all of the togetherness that we’re experiencing these days. Don’t take it personally.
Find the time that you need as well
The last few months have been tough on everyone. Some families are feeling minimal impact while others are struggling mightily. Some families have experienced tremendous losses, others are thankful that they are largely unscathed. But these months have taken a toll on everyone.
As you think about the kinds of time that your student needs during this winter season, think, too about what you need – and whether helping your student find the time they need may also be an opportunity for you to find your time as well.
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