Going Home


Commercials and holiday shows tell us that the holidays should be shining and perfect. Heading home for Thanksgiving or winter break can seem like approaching paradise to college students and their parents after a long semester away at college. After the draining demands of college life and an extended period of time away from home, reunions over break can be idealized by both students and parents.

Unfortunately, the holidays can add both expected and unexpected stress while students are in college. Some students may be coming home to a lot of stress in their household. Many students, exhausted from the general stress of college life, are looking forward to long periods of sleep and seeing old friends; meanwhile, family members may expect you to participate in family obligations and chores. When students do get to see their old friends, they often find that everyone had changed and things just aren't the same anymore. Maybe instead of being able to just relax, you will have to work long hours to make money. On the other hand, transitioning from being busy and having constant distraction to having free time can be hard. This free time can bring boredom, frustration, and bring heightened attention to symptoms of mental health concerns.

There is the added struggle of going back to your parents' home for the holidays after having spent the last few months living away from their rules. Going home can be a source of relaxation, comfort, and relief, but it can also create some new conflicts when students' new-found independence clashes with the family’s old rules. Many things change during a semester at college. Students change, becoming more self-reliant, independent, and may even have found new interests and passions. The dynamic of the family may have shifted without you in the house. The actual home may have changed, such as switching your bedroom around. This may feel disorienting for students as they navigate transitioning to home for breaks.

Break is perhaps the first time that students return home for an extended amount of time. Keeping the following items in mind may be helpful in navigating family interactions over the extended winter break You and your parents can work together to make sure that visits home are fun times for everyone. 


  • Your parents are likely unaware of the independence and growth you've developed since being at school; they may be expecting things to be the way you were before you left home. Avoid conflict by talking to them before you go home and negotiating with them. Letting them know how you feel about coming back home after being on your own can initiate a conversation about rules, expectations, and preferences.


  • Make a plan for break (and check it twice.) Talk with your parents about your plans for the visit home as soon as you arrive. Be flexible and include family time in these plans. That way, your parents will feel a part of your life and be less likely to attempt to plan your schedule for you. If you come from a divorced or blended family, work to develop strategies to reduce the pressures to be in two or more places at the same time. If you feel as if you are bored, try to think of things you wish you had time for while you were in school. Be sure to include healthy, enjoyable and stress-reducing activities to your plan.


  • Be aware that your parents and siblings have likely settled into new patterns or routines since you've left, and that your return may change things in their lives as well. Be cognizant that the way you act around your roommate and peers at school may not be an appropriate way to act around younger siblings and parents. A mutual respect for each other's "space" will help keep things running smoothly.


  • Try to respect your parents' preferences. You may not be able to reasonably have the same amount of freedom you enjoy at school while in your parents’ house. Some things that you do here at school just may not fly at home. Sleeping in the same bed as your partner, underage drinking, or staying out all night may not be things that your parents are ready for or feel they can condone. Cooperate with them to develop new house rules (e.g., curfew) that reflect both their parental concerns and your new independence. Be sure to step back and hold off on any temptation for rebellion. Remember, your parents will not adjust to all the changes in your lifestyle overnight.


  • Returning home from school can add stress if you are experiencing a family conflict. Many family gatherings are inevitable during the holidays and while they can be a great time to see people, but can also be a hotbed for arguments. You can plan ahead for anticipated conflicts by being prepared for how you would like to navigate them and coping skills to utilize when conflict arises. Be sure to take care of yourself afterward and plan relaxing activities after a gathering you anticipate being stressful. Be sure to make time for gatherings and social situations that will not be stressful as well.


  • Be prepared to answer questions about what you're majoring in, what your career plans are, etc. Some relatives may not know what to say after you've been gone for so long, and these may be easy conversation-starters. Beat your family to the punch by talking with them about your life at school. What you might see as them being “nosey,” they probably see as being interested and wanting to be involved in your life.  Plus, they may be really interested in your new life; don't forget to ask them questions about their lives, too. If you feel too much time is being spent discussing college-related topics, negotiate with your parents’ times when school matters are off-limits.


  • Consider the fact that it may be hard for your parents to accept the fact that you are not a child anymore. They may be facing the significant challenge of letting go of concerns, points of view, and behaviors that have been a part of them for years.  Try to see the situation from their perspective (a little empathy can go a long way) and express to them your understanding of their struggle.


  • You may find it difficult to equally divide your time between family and friends who all want to see you. Decide what takes priority before you go home, and try to stick to those boundaries. This will help reduce stress and over-commitment and assure that the time you spend with others is quality time. Remember to take time out for yourself and to reward yourself for all the hard work you put in this semester!


  • Do not neglect your health over break. While it may be tempting to “treat yourself” all of break, try to incorporate some type of physical activity and healthy foods into your day. Be sure you are getting plenty of water, plenty of sleep, and enjoying the sunshine when you can. Your sleep schedule may feel off from finals, so try to use this time to get back into a healthier schedule. Enjoy a mix of holiday treats and healthy foods as well.


Having realistic expectations, being able to negotiate and making some adjustments can help make it a happy and healthy holiday season.

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Published: Monday, October 28, 2019

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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