How to Help Your Teen When They Come Home From College

mom welcoming college student home


There is no doubt that the start of a long weekend, a holiday break, or a summer break at home for your college student ranks high on your list of best things ever. After all, you have survived the first few months of separation from your teen, and even though you may have developed a new normal without them, that doesn’t diminish the fact that they will be home and in close proximity to you for the first time in months.

As with any momentous occasion, it is easy to over-plan and even easier to set unrealistic expectations. Consequently, it is important that parents and their children go into the long weekend or break with their eyes wide open in order to avoid common mistakes.

What You Need to Know Upfront

Even though it has only been a few months since you dropped your teen off at college, they are coming back a different person. Keep in mind, they left your home as a recently graduated high school student. But, they are returning as someone who has taken their first steps into the adult world. As a result, they are bound to be a little different than the last time you saw them.

For your teen, there is a certain wistfulness about coming home after being away for so long, even though they have come to enjoy the independence they had at school. At school, they could come and go as they pleased, eat what they want when they wanted, and sleep (or not) when they wanted to. And, although they still want to fit back into their home life, they are not the same person they were when the left. 

Meanwhile, parents are eager to welcome their student back into family life, but they run into trouble when they assume everything will be just like it was before their student left. Clearly, things have changed, and not every parent knows how to embrace these changes.

The key to getting through these feelings and realizations is to recognize beforehand that they might exist and to talk about them.

Long before your student walks in the front door, it is a good idea to talk about expectations, both yours and theirs. Ask questions like “What do you want to do when you are home?” and “Are you willing to attend the following events with us?” Talking about everything beforehand, including your expectations and your student’s expectations, will save everyone some heartaches down the road.

It’s also a good idea to discuss various hot button issues like curfews, chores, money, and other expectations long before the break starts. Discussing, compromising, and coming to an agreement beforehand can keep things from getting uncomfortable.

Overall, parents should remember that their roles have changed. In the past, they pretty much laid down the law. But now that their child is older, their role should transform into one of an adviser where there is more discussing and less dictating.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Having a child home for break is exciting for almost any parent. But the issue is that welcoming them back into the nest does not always happen seamlessly. In fact, it can be downright miserable if the transition is not handled properly.

Here are some tips on mistakes you need to avoid making. And if you do avoid these common pitfalls, you will help everyone navigate this new experience.

Avoid Monopolizing Their Time

Most parents believe that after not seeing their student for months at a time, that they have a right to have their teen all to themselves. And even though you do have that right, it is better for them—and your relationship—if you let them go.

Allow them space to spend time with their friends. Encourage them to have one-on-one time with their siblings. Even let them spend time alone if that is what they want or need. After all, giving them the space to do things they want to do and spend time with who they want to see will likely make them be more open to spending time with you.

Avoid Over-Planning

While it might sound like fun trying to hit all their favorite places, like their favorite restaurants, stores, and local sights, try not to over-plan. If you make the mistake of over-planning, you will spend more time trying to get from place to place and miss out on valuable time together.

Slow down and be more spontaneous. Allow your time together to unfold naturally. It will be much more enjoyable for everyone involved.

Avoid Reminding Them They No Longer Live Here

While it is true that your life did not stop the day they left for college, you still do not need to remind them that there are things that they have missed out on. Sure, you have made memories that they are not part of, especially if there are younger siblings at home. But, you do not need to spend a lot of time talking about these experiences. If you do, you will only make them sad.

Plus, they will likely feel like a guest in their own home, which is the last thing that you want. Instead, focus on the memories you are making right then rather than things that have happened while they were away.

Avoid Expecting Things to Be the Same

Like it or not, college students often come home slightly different than they were when they left. Learn to embrace the changes and new quirks. And remember, your teen is still figuring out who they want to be.

Your child is a work in progress, and what you see right now may not be there during the next visit.

Likewise, you have probably changed as well, especially if your nest is now empty. Maybe you have started a new hobby or enjoy sleeping later than usual. These changes may be equally as challenging for your teen. After all, they might be coming home also expecting things to be exactly as they were.

Avoid Nagging or Criticizing Them

Don't forget that for the last few months your teen has been making their own decisions and choices, apart from you. As a result, you need to be sure they still experience some of that freedom, even while they are home.

Respect their decision-making on the little things and, if it frustrates you, do your best to let it go.

However, if their choices and decisions are harmful to themselves or to others, by all means, have a conversation with them. There is still no need for nagging though. Instead, aim for an open and honest conversation.

Avoid Giving Them Free Reign at Home

While it is definitely nice to have your teen home at last, this does not mean that you allow them to be disrespectful of you or your home. There is a fine line between respecting their need for space and being a doormat.

For instance, do not do their laundry unless it is something you want to do. Make sure they clean up after themselves and help with dinner and cleanup. The expectation that they speak to you respectfully still should be in full force. Just because you have missed them like crazy doesn't mean they get to treat you unfairly.

Avoid Being Impatient

Coming home from college feels strange to your college student. They likely do not expect things to feel different. Aside from the fact that their room no longer feels like their room, the people they have been living with and seeing every day are no longer around.

Be patient as they adjust to being under your roof again, in a completely different environment from the one they just came from.

One way you can accomplish this is by getting them to talk about how they are feeling and the typical phases of adjustment they are going through. In the end, the goal is to help them see that this is just a phase and they will adjust to it.  

A Word From Verywell

Welcoming your college student home for a break is both exciting and challenging. You both will need to discover what the new normal is for your relationship. But rest assured, you will both eventually find a comfort level with this new phase of your life. Instead of dwelling on the differences, embrace the time you have together. Make you sure you don't take a single minute for granted.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schiffrin HH, Liss M, Miles-McLean H, Geary KA, Erchull MJ, Tashner T. Helping or hovering? The effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being. J Child Fam Stud. 2014;23;548-557. doi:10.1007/s10826-013-9716-3

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.