Home for Christmas

Parents up and down the country are looking forward to seeing their freshers, some for the first time since leaving them in a teary heap (that’s the parents). Some will bring home the first term’s washing, others hilarious tales of hall living and some will be less effusive about their new life. While as parents we want our kids to fit in, be happy, bright and healthy, it doesn’t always work out like that. Peer group parents may be full of how their child is loving uni life, has made hundreds of friends and is sailing through the essays with firsts. But if you have your doubts that things aren’t going as well, rest assured you won’t be in the minority.

Perhaps your child has already has a wobble. Even the most confident of youngsters can find the first few weeks too much. Drinking, eating badly and trying so hard to make friends and a dent in the course work can take its toll. Try not to bombard your child with questions the minute they walk through the door or on the car journey back (when they will probably be asleep anyway if it’s a long one). Let them settle back in, retreat to their comforting bedrooms and keep the conversation until they are ready. A big family meal may be a chance for everyone to ask how it’s going but grabbing a coffee or lunch out before will give you a chance to catch up. They may have put on a few pounds, be a bit more spotty since they left home and seem more grown up in some ways and vulnerable in others. Ask open questions such as “How can I help you with that” rather than judging Why did you do that? questions.

Neutral information such as what they are reading for their course or what they’ve liked most and least about the work will reveal quite a lot. Have they found budgeting hard? They may have spent quite a lot on going out in the first term so may need some help with a spread sheet or an app to help them keep an eye on spending. They’ll be looking forward to catching up with old friends so they may not spend much time at home for the first couple of days – they’re used to their independence now. You’ll probably start worrying about where they are and what time they are going to be home but it’s good to remember that they’ve had a taste of independence now. It’s a tricky one but asking if they could let you know if they won’t be coming home because they are staying at friends (or bringing home a couple to stay over) isn’t unreasonable.

Only you will know your own child and how they are feeling. If you suspect all is not well, maybe ask a sibling, grandparent or other relative or person they have a good relationship with to arrange to meet up with them. Telling your parents you feel like a “failure” isn’t going to be easy especially with the money involved. But it’s common to have these feelings so be strong and supportive and talk things through when you get a chance. You can check out the university’s own support so you have it as a resource to tell them about if they need it. Studentminds.org.uk has so much helpful advice.

Maybe it’s just being independent and having to do the cooking, cleaning and washing that’s pulling them down. Have a bit of fun learning a couple of quick pasta dishes, running through using the washing machine or doing the bed linen change sounds silly but actually can help. Sometimes they can worry themselves silly about a medical issue - they may think they've picked up an STD and don't want to tell you. Suggest they make an appointment to see the doctor if they seem worried and they will be pointed in the right direction to get treatment or allay their fears.

When it comes to saying goodbye again in January it may be painful for them but arrange to meet up in a couple of weeks and keep the door open at home in case they want to drop back for a few days. Home can seem a very boring, restrictive place when you’ve been away and usually it’s a relief to get back to freedom but not always. But knowing you can call your parents anytime, any day when you feel you need some moral support is the most important thing.

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