Families: 4 Tips for Supporting Your College Student Who Is Back Home

by Allison Oster

Your college student has returned home midsemester, unexpectedly, and is now trying to do college in a way they likely never anticipated. As a parent or guardian, how do you support them in this time?

It’s a season unlike any other as families adjust to many changes as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Naturally, you’re probably relieved to have your child safe at home. Keep in mind, they may be struggling with this sudden change. This isn’t a typical holiday break when your student returns home for a short time with family. They may be anxious about their academics, disappointed in missing out on campus events, and coping with the realities of being away from friends, peers, and faculty.

Your son or daughter will need your encouragement, but in new ways. Jim Burns, Ph.D., executive director of Azusa Pacific University’s HomeWord Center for Youth and Family, offered four tips for parents and families whose students are now home from college.

Be Encouraging, Not Intrusive

“Wise parents will recognize that they can be encouraging but not intrusive,” recommends Burns, who is also the author of Doing Life With Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out. “Parents want to be careful not to revert to how it was during the teen or even pre-teen years.”

When adult children have been away from home for a while, they are no longer used to their guardians weighing in on day-to-day decisions, such as when to eat or take a break, or how much time they should spend on schoolwork. Burns advises families to find a balance of being caring, without enabling dependency. Unsolicited advice can be taken as criticism, so sometimes it’s best to step back and let them figure things out on their own.

Work Together to Set Expectations

With school and work happening simultaneously in many households, families are experiencing new challenges that may require new boundaries. Your young adult may not be sure how to be a young adult at home after being away. Don’t wait until there’s a problem. Sit down together as a family and discuss expectations and boundaries. How can you help respect one another’s time and space while being intentional with your time together?

“Move your relationship from a parent-child to an adult-adult relationship,” says Burns. “This doesn’t mean you still aren’t the parent, but when you treat your child like an adult, the new relationship can blossom and improve.”

Create Space to Support Their Studies

Some students will have an easier time than others adapting to an online class format. Many students may find it more difficult without the boundaries that in-class sessions can offer. Ask your child how you can support them as they learn to set a routine and prioritize coursework.

If it’s conducive in your home, help create a space that is somewhat free of distractions so they can focus on their studies. Do they need periods of quiet for certain tasks or online class discussions? Does white noise help them work? Make a plan together for how to communicate their needs according to their learning style and coursework.

Take Time to Have Fun

“This is not the time to nag but rather cheer them on,” recommends Burns. “Be their greatest cheerleader. Praise them. Bless them. Have serious fun with them.”

Celebrate moments of success, like finishing a big paper, test, or project. Make their favorite meal or pick a new show to binge-watch together as a reward for getting the day’s work done. Plan time for breaks to go on walks or work out together to an online class. This is a time to enjoy the opportunity to be together and create space to have fun as a family.

Most of all, help remind your child that this season is temporary. Make the best of it and have patience with one another. “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal,” 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NRSV).

Allison Oster ’01, M.A. ’05, is senior editorial director/senior social media strategist in the Office of University Relations.