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The Parent Program is here for you.

Parent Program Web site

Parent Program staff:
Nancy Sandhu
Patti Lux-Weber
Nick Miller

They’re Coming Home! Now What?

The strain of shopping, attending social gatherings, and preparing special meals can make the holiday season a stressful time for some families. Adding to the mix, during the next few weeks, students will return home for Winter Break, which spans December 23 through January 21.

Several campus experts suggest opening lines of communication and creating clear expectations to make your son or daughter’s return home from UW–Madison the enjoyable and rewarding experience it should be—instead of adding to your stress level.

Photo of students in winter hats and jackets walking away from the Education Building.

Students are finishing up a busy first semester and preparing to head home for winter break.

First of all, don’t be surprised to encounter a student “zombie” recovering from the physical and mental strains of finals week, says Rob Sepich, student relations manager for University Health Services (UHS).

“Believe it or not, when home for winter break, your student’s top priority might be to sleep,” he says. “The first semester is exhausting for many, and a healthy response can be a long rest.”

Alternatively, students may be dearly missing their high school friends, and catching up with them may be at the top of their to-do lists. This, too, is a healthy response and can affirm their ability to maintain long-distance friendships.

“It might be hard at first, because you miss your son or daughter and want to spend time with them,” Sepich adds. “But they know that you’ll always be there for them. And they may want to spend some time shoring up relationships they feel less secure about.”

To ensure that you do get quality time with your son or daughter during the break, schedule time to make sure that activities that are important to you aren’t lost in the shuffle. Also, try to have a conversation with your student about expectations for schedules, housework, and behavior during the month.

Parents should decide whether all of the original rules of the house still apply, and also consider some extra flexibility to take into account their student’s newfound independence and autonomy, says Wren Singer, director of Orientation and New Student Programs.

“It’s a fine line to walk, because it’s your house,” she says. “But you may also want to avoid some of the confrontation that may come from being overly rigid about small issues.”

In addition, don’t be surprised to hear your son or daughter refer to Madison as “home” or discuss viewpoints or values that may be unfamiliar. That’s all perfectly normal, Sepich says.

Another important subject to discuss openly with your student is academic performance. As a reminder, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) stipulates that students maintain formal control over their educational records, including their final semester grades. Parents may not review the record unless their student grants approval in writing. Likewise, university employees are unable disclose details about grades, health conditions, or disciplinary actions to parents or guardians.

With that said, the best way to find out about your student’s final grades is to ask your student. When talking about grades, be prepared that some of the final marks might be lower than either you or your student anticipated. Don’t panic. UW–Madison is a more rigorous academic environment than high school, and most new students need to improve their grades. Break can be a good time to come up with a plan to adjust study habits and learn about additional academic resources. Also, try to think broadly—beyond the letters.

“Grades aren’t the only measure of your students’ success,” Singer says. “Are they adjusting to living on their own? Did their academic performance improve over the course of the semester? Are they getting involved in life at UW–Madison?”

Some students may consider leaving the university after a difficult semester. Parents can play a key role with such a critical decision by helping the student evaluate his or her options while deciding whether staying or moving on is the right decision.

“Believe it or not, when home for winter break, your student’s top priority might be to sleep… The first semester is exhausting for many, and a healthy response can be a long rest.”

Every situation is different, but, depending on the circumstances, Singer suggests encouraging students to give UW–Madison two full semesters before moving elsewhere.

“We generally suggest that it takes a full year for a student to find out if campus is right for him or her,” she says. “In many cases, the difficult class, roommate situation, or adjustment issue may work itself out in the second semester.”

For more details on FERPA, or if you have concerns and would like more information about resources and services to refer your student to, visit the Parent Program Web site and select “Academics and Career” or contact Parent Program staff.

Lastly, if your student hasn’t already done so, he or she may soon be considering where, and with whom, to live next year. The university encourages students to take their time, make an informed decision and not feel pressured into signing a lease. Although many campus area landlords and apartments advertise as early as November for the next academic year, numerous houses and apartments are offered for rent in Madison and good deals are likely to be available in the spring, according to the Campus Area Housing Office, which is managed by Visitor & Information Programs.

Dean of Students Lori Berquam suggests that students look beyond amenities and be sure that potential landlords offer important safety features such as sprinkler systems, door locks, and lighting of buildings.

“I’m always asking students to pay attention to safety,” says Berquam. “Our challenge is to recognize that safety in our homes and apartments is as important as personal safety on campus or State Street.”

UW–Madison offers listings of off campus housing vacancies on the Campus Area Housing Web site, but does not inspect or offer any guarantee for the condition or quality of the rental units listed or endorse any of the listed properties.

Remember that returning to University Housing is another great option for students who want to continue experiencing the convenience and services they offer. Between 23 and 27 percent of new students do so, many of whom take advantage of rewarding leadership opportunities in the halls.

“It’s still cool to stay on campus,” says Paul Evans, University Housing director. “There are still programs, services, and activities—like food service—that students may want to come back to take advantage of.”

For more information about the process of returning as a University Housing resident in 2008–09, visit the UW Housing Web site to download the 2008–09 Room Assignment Timeline PDF or call 608/262-2522.