(HealthDay News) -- When college students return home for the holidays, they can bring more than presents with them. They can also cause stress and tension in the home as the entire family makes adjustments, says an expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
"The winter break is the first extended time at home for most freshmen since they left for college in the summer," Karen Levin Coburn, associate vice chancellor for students and dean of the freshman transition at the university, said in a prepared statement.
"The first semester at college may have been their first glimpse of freedom. They wonder if it is possible to go home and still maintain their newfound independence," said Coburn, who is co-author of the book Letting Go: A Parent's Guide to Understanding the College Years.
She offered some advice.
"Parents should not be shocked when students come home with bags under their eyes. Most students have just finished finals, they are exhausted, and they may sleep a lot the first day or two. Parents who have invested money and energy in their children's education may not understand the zombie re-entering their home," Coburn said.
Younger siblings may need support from their parents in order to deal with the changes caused by an older siblings' return home from college for the holidays.
"For example, the middle sibling has been used to being the eldest, and it may be more of a drag than a delight to have big sister home again," Coburn noted.
If the returning student is an only child, parents may realize they've grown accustomed to privacy and a clean home.
"Though parents enjoy the reinvigorated hustle and bustle of family life, they may have moments of longing for the spontaneity and quiet of life on their own. Actually, the ambivalence is not unlike the ambivalence their child feels about being back home versus being on his or her own," Coburn said.
Because money is tight for many parents of college students, finances may become a major issue during the holiday visit. Money issues need to be discussed openly, Coburn said.
"Try to find a time when the student is open to discussion and tactfully try to help him or her understand the necessity of budgeting," she recommended.
Here are some other tips for parents:
Don't try to impose old rules (such as curfews) from the student's high school days.
Plan early and consult with your returning college student when making arrangements for family parties, vacations and other activities.
Don't do everything for your student. Let him or her take responsibility for the things they've been handling while away at college, such as medical appointments, finances, and car and computer maintenance.
The University of Minnesota has more holiday advice for parents of college students.