Thanksgiving is often homecoming for millions of family members across the country. If your family includes a college freshman returning home for the first time since leaving for school in September, the holiday holds a special sweetness.
But it also can be a time of readjustment. Your child went away a high school student; the person who walks in the door may bear little resemblance to the one who left.
"Be prepared for your children to expect you to realize that they have grown up and are independent," said psychologist Linda Welsh, director of the Agoraphobia and Anxiety Treatment Center in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., near Philadelphia. "They might go out of their way to prove that they are self-sufficient and no longer fall under the old rules and curfews."
While they might want to be treated as adults, they also want the attention and pampering generally accorded much younger children. Which can be hard not only for parents to take, but for other siblings still at home.
"No doubt, returning college students can be obnoxious," Dr. Welsh said.
And full of new ideas that might not find favor in the parental home.
Taking a new name, becoming a vegetarian, adopting strange new fashions or hairstyles are some of the more noticeable ways your returning freshman may have changed.
"Coming home with an earring or a weird haircut may be done just to get a rise out of you," Dr. Welsh said. "It's often done for shock value and is an effort by them to forge their own identities.
"The best reaction in those cases is no reaction."
But your child may present some emotional changes as well.
"You might have prided yourself on having an open relationship with your children. But now they are less communicative. They offer no real information about their life away from you. This doesn't necessarily mean that there's a problem. It may also be a sign of their growing independence."
They may be independent -- but they may also arrive home with a heap of very childish demands.
"It's hard to listen to this newly 'independent' person who lands with dirty laundry and a list of things he wants to eat and who sleeps all day and stays out late at night," said Dr. Welsh.
Which is why it might be hard for parents to readjust to having their student back home.
So what can you as a parent do to help make the holiday a happy time?
* Expect some different attitudes from your student. Even though he's been away only a few months, he is used to his own new rules.
* Follow your student's lead. It's natural for you to be curious about her class work and social life. But if your child is noncommittal about these things, don't push. Let her know that you're interested and ready to hear and discuss any topic whenever she feels like it. Keep your word.
* Don't expect students to act like high schoolers -- observing the old curfews, for instance. But they should be responsive to your concerns. If they plan to be out late, tell them you expect a call so you won't worry. You're not demanding that they come home earlier, just that they be considerate.
* Be tolerant of their "obnoxiousness." Stay cool in the face of their newfound wisdom.
And remember: They'll be leaving again soon.