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They go off to college as your sweet little baby, but when your college-age kids come home, all they want to do is sleep and stay out all night. What’s a parent to do? “Today” contributor and psychiatrist, Gail Saltz is with New York Presbyterian Hospital and she offers some tips for parents.

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Your summer can end in disaster if your expectations and your college kid’s expectations clash when they come home for the summer.

On the one hand, you are looking forward to seeing your child. You miss them. You expect them to be the same person they were when they left to go off to school. You expect them to step back into the role they had before they left for school in doing household chores, keeping a curfew, telling you almost everything, and following the rules of the family. You want to hear all about their studies, their friends, their ambitions and plans for school. You probably even hope to show them off to the extended family at get-togethers because you are proud of them.

On the other hand, your college kid just wants to come home and sleep, hang out with old friends and new friends, stay out all night and generally do whatever they’ve been doing at school.

They have spent the last year in an unstructured and unsupervised environment and probably really like it that way. This new world of theirs contains new people, new habits and a new style of dressing. You may or may not agree with this, and as a result they may not want to discuss it with you.

As you can see, this can all add up to disaster.


1. Negotiate conflicts early: There are things you know will be sources of tension. They tend to be curfews, use of the car, phone and Internet too, money use, who can come over when, and household responsibilities. Decide ahead of time what you are willing to settle for with each of these items. Then sit down with your game plan and discuss with them their wishes. Find a place where you can compromise and make these the ground rules for the summer.

2. Be flexible: If you force the same rules on them they had before they lived on their own at school, they will truly resent it and may not want to come home, which would be a loss for you. So try to be more flexible while maintaining certain limits the family needs to coexist.

For instance, let your kid sleep until 1 p.m. for the first few days but then pick a reasonable time (like 10 a.m.) after that so that the rest of the family can do what they need to. Don’t insist they be home by 11 p.m. when you know at school they were out until 4 a.m., but do say they must tell you when they will be home in advance and stick to it or call if they cannot so you don’t have to worry when they aren’t there. If they use the car they must agree to times you can spare it and say when and where they will be, again so you are not left anxious.

3. Encourage an adult-to-adult relationship: When you come off as an authoritative parent, you push your child away. He or she may be struggling to become an adult, and it’s difficult. Try listening to their opinions and ideas. Invite them to discuss how they feel about various issues and then also tell them how you feel. The evolution to this kind of relationship will be very gratifying for both of you.

4. Accept them: While your child is in the new universe of college, they are most likely trying on different personas, which may be different from the way they were before. But you need to be somewhat accepting of their different clothing, hair, friends and independence. In fact, you need to accept them as adults. If you are going to have a good relationship with them, you need to appreciate them for who they are.

5. Show them you want them home: Let them know how happy you are to be with them. It’s easy to get off the path into how much it’s all bugging you and do a lot of griping. This will make them feel unwanted and next time they may not come home. Allow them time with their old and new friends, but then ask them to save some time for you, so you can do something fun together.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.”

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