The first semester of the new college school year will shortly be coming to an end. Midterms, fall sports and the first 90 days of the 2017-2018 academic year are about to hit the Turkey Day Break. For first year students (and even upperclassmen) many will learn for the first time how their transition (or continuation) to college life is progressing. It’s time for refueling and reconnecting. It is time for parents to “Check-In”!!

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time. A time for family and friends to gather and give thanks for their blessings and friendships. For new college freshman (and even upperclassmen) the break is an important time to relax, refuel and re-energize. But for many this first major break maybe a time to question their college path and sense of success.

For parents, the break is the first time to be with their student for any extended amount of time since move-in day. It is a time to explore the new college experience. Parents have questions on academics, study demands, roommates, social life and many more pressing thoughts about their new college freshman.


Students returning home during this extended break bring a variety of emotions and excitement with them. Minds are full of gradesaccomplishments, good times, names of new friends and thoughts about next semester. But for 20% of new college freshman (and some upperclassmen) struggle is the general stream of thought. Challenging courses, issues fitting in, food selection and other concerns make this break a time of anxiety and stress. Understanding how to approach the conversation with their parents and friends is a troubling stage in their lives.

Parents too are excited to see their student. They arrive on campus ready for the drive home and find a month’s worth of laundry and an exhausted human being.  Thoughts of talking about classes, professors, clubs and social activities turns into a one-way conversation with many attempts greeted by a traveling partner who sleeps most of the way.

Parents instead need to restrain the impulse to press for details and turn on their good listening skills. It is best to observe, listen and watch the non-verbal messages to determine if in fact there might be concerns. Clearly, the natural instinct during the initial gathering period and during the early part of the break is to probe. Resist the temptation, listen, take mental notes and watch for behavioral changes. In doing so those students who want to talk but are not ready will respond more positively to a warm welcoming and country music. Students who are struggling want to talk, they just do not know how and when!

Back Home

You will find that once a student has had a chance to recharge their battery (food and sleep) and a few phone calls to catch up with their close high school friends, the signal will flash that it is time for the conversation. How and where you begin will be key to the outcome. Breakfast and midday are the best times. Open ended, “softball” questions, not those that allow for a yes or no will fuel the conversation.

  • Want new professor or class are you finding interesting?
  • Tell me about new classmates that you have meet?
  • How is the food in the dining hall? How does it compare to my cooking?
  • What interesting club have you checked out?
  • What course gave you the hardest time?
  • How different from high school is college?

Based on the reaction and responses you should have a line on whether or not you to dig deeper. If the combination of your observations (appearance, mode) and lead you to believe there might be some more concern, then and only then do you dig in deeper. If it appears that it may require more time to uncover whether there are deeper concerns, it will be important to have a plan to continue the conversation once the student returns to campus. Ultimately, this first “Check-In” is to establish a baseline to how things are progressing and if help is needed, you as their parent are there to provide 100% support.

Returning to Campus

Students returning to campus will be bring back their clean laundry, snacks and forgotten items from when they initially moved in. It is also important for students to understand as they return that they have resources to assist them to overcome obstacles that might be creating anxiety and stress. Resources that they should feel comfortable seeking out and utilizing.

  • Grades: visiting the Academic Advising Center can provide upperclassmen tutoring
  • Dorms: intervention starts with the Resident Hall staff
  • Dietary: a chat with the Dining Hall Manager to discuss dietary needs
  • Student Affairs: find the list of Clubs and Organizations to investigate; to join

Parents, it is also important that you establish a good plan for how you will communicate with your student as they return. Mix it up using texting, phone call and facetime. Continue to be a good listener watching silent signals and behavioral changes (positive included).  Keep checking the pulse and providing ongoing guidance.

Next Up: Christmas Break

Learn more about our industry unique Campus-Check-In-Program