- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - Soon, if not already, first-year college students will arrive home for winter break to parents who may be wondering, “What happened to my kid?”

Sandy Colbs, director of Illinois State University’s Student Counseling Services, said, “It’s normal for kids to experiment with their appearance, how they dress, hairstyle” when they go off to college.

It might be startling to parents, but it’s not necessarily cause for concern, she said.

“A lot of students do a lot of sleeping when they first come home,” said Colbs, and that’s normal, too, after they pulled all-nighters to finish projects and study for final exams.

But if the extended sleeping lasts for several weeks or parents notice “a pretty significant personality change,” it’s time to ask questions, she said.

For parents, it’s a time of transition, too.

“Something that often hits the parents, they (students) will refer to college as ‘home’ and that can sting, particularly the mothers,” said Annorah Moorman, assistant dean of students and director of Illinois Wesleyan University’s Counseling and Consultation Services.

Rather than feel hurt, parents should see it as “a sign of success,” she said. “What this means is they’ve developed a strong sense of community, they’ve made friends, they feel welcome there.”

Colbs said, “This is a new type of relationship. It can be very rewarding. It can be really fun to have an adult relationship with your kid.”

Students who have become accustomed to setting their own hours at school, “may balk a bit” coming back to a more regimented household, Colbs noted.

Parents need to acknowledge that, but, “It’s is still appropriate for parents to have expectations for someone staying in their home,” she said.

Talk about those expectations and come to an agreement on such things as which family events the student will be expected to show up at.

Not only does that lessen conflict, Moorman said, “It also shows the son or daughter they are being treated as an adult and a change has been recognized.”

Also, some students will be more open about their early college struggles than others.

Rather than asking yes-no questions, Colbs suggests asking more open-ended questions.

“Students can be a little more approachable,” Moorman said, if you ask balanced questions along the lines of: What were the highlights of your semester and what were the challenges?

If a problem presents itself, whether it relates to a roommate, class or job, Colbs said, “instead of jumping in to solve it, ask (the student), ‘How do you plan to resolve it?’”

Learning to solve their own problems is part of the learning process.

“It’s only through gaining a sense of mastery that self-confidence develops,” Moorman said. “The key is to make sure the student knows the parent is there for support.”

Both Colbs and Moorman said it’s important to make sure students are aware of the resources available on campus, whether it’s tutoring or counseling. Often, that information is provided during new student orientation, but, at the time, they don’t think it’s something they will need.

“You can certainly offer suggestions,” Colbs said.

If students have tried to address their problems but haven’t received the help they need, parents can suggest making calls together, Moorman said.

What if students are reluctant to tell all?

“Part of the maturation process is having a little more privacy in your life,” Colbs said. “Just because they don’t share everything with you doesn’t mean they don’t love you anymore.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, http://bit.ly/1OaupYf

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Information from: The Pantagraph, http://www.pantagraph.com

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