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With the holidays upon us, parents of first-year college students may be eagerly preparing to roll out the red carpet for this long-awaited time together.

What’s sometimes overlooked in the preparation process is that the child you dropped off just a few months prior may be returning home transformed in one way or another with expectations that are different than yours for their first visit home.

Here are a few tips to make for a heartwarming reunion during your child’s break from school.

  1. Confirm Transportation. Confirm that your child has reliable transportation plans in place and if possible, have a backup plan in mind should there be a need for a last-minute alternative to what was originally arranged.
  2. Get their Buy-in on Formal Plans. If you’re having guests for Thanksgiving Day or have received a special dinner invitation from friends or family, make sure your child is aware and on board with whatever the plan is. While surprises can sometimes be fun, this first visit home may not be the best time to spring something unexpected upon them.
  3. Discuss Expectations. Outside of formal dinner plans for the holiday, discuss what you’re most looking forward to and see what they’re most interested in doing while home. After all, you’re likely not the only person your child is eager to see after their time away. Whether it’s high school friends with whom they’ll be eager to share their first-semester experience or another family member who isn’t part of your household, you may find that your child’s limited time at home will be divvied up. You’ll have less time together than you had hoped for. Make a commitment to make the most of whatever time is spent together.
  4. Strike a Balance with Autonomy. With their newly developed sense of independence, there may be an expectation that they’re free to come and go as they please during their visit without consulting you. Be sure to share your preferences before their visit officially begins so that there’s no misunderstanding or cause for concern. With a candid discussion of both of your perspectives, you’ll surely find a way to honor their new-found autonomy while also honoring your family’s rules.
  5. Embrace the Transformation. Keep your heart and mind open to the person they’re becoming. Express interest in their studies and their evolving view of the world. Learn about the friends they’ve made, activities they’ve explored outside of the classroom, and what new direction they may be interested in heading in a formal course of study. While your own evolution may be less apparent, remember you’ve likely changed in some way in the last few months too. Use your precious time together to share what’s new in both of your lives.

By adjusting expectations, embracing growth and change, and keeping an open mind and heart, you’ll be helping to ensure that your child’s first visit home from college will be a good one. And before you know it, you’ll be saying another goodbye and beginning to plan for their visit home for the next holidays.


Patricia A. Roberts is a motivational speaker, writer, and veteran of the college savings industry. She has led college savings initiatives at premier financial services organizations like Merrill Lynch and AllianceBernstein, and has authored Route 529: A Parent’s Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. In her current role as COO at Gift of College, she promotes 529 plans as a financial wellness benefit in the workplace.