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Welcoming Your Child Home From College For The First Time

As the academic year draws to a close, many parents eagerly anticipate the return of their children from college. They look forward to enjoying quality time together and resuming life as it was before, in a home that has remained largely unchanged.


However, what we often fail to realize is that while our homes may have stayed the same, the child returning to them has undergone significant transformation. Over the past ten months, they have been thrust into an unfamiliar environment, facing a wide range of experiences that contribute to this transformation, such as:


      • Living Independently: Away from home, students are expected to manage their day-to-day schedules, including balancing schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and personal time. This newfound independence often requires them to develop time management skills and self-discipline to meet deadlines and maintain a healthy lifestyle. 
      • Making New Social Connections: College provides a broad platform for social exploration, where students meet people from diverse backgrounds and cultures. Each individual is faced with the responsibility of initiating connections, allowing for vulnerability and placing trust in new friendships. 
      • Navigating Diverse Viewpoints: Exposure to a variety of perspectives in college can significantly alter a student’s worldview. This experience challenges them to think critically about their own beliefs and often leads to deeper questioning of themselves and their own core values. 
      • Overcoming Academic and Personal Challenges: College students frequently face academic rigor that is significantly more challenging than high school. Additionally, personal challenges such as dealing with homesickness and managing residential living can also be contributing factors of stress and anxiety. 
      • Developing Critical Thinking Skills: The academic environment in college is geared towards fostering critical thinking and analytical skills. Through coursework, discussions, and assignments, students learn to evaluate information, construct well-founded arguments, and approach problems from multiple angles.

Each college student is faced with the expectation of tackling these experiences head on, learning how to acclimate, adjust and thrive in a new setting. 

Whether or not their first year at school was a perceived success, the child returning home is changed. These experiences have impacted their views, perspectives, behaviors and expectations. As a result, parents and children alike, will be forced to acknowledge and address the impact that these changes will have on the dynamics at home. 


Here are some of the common obstacles that might surface:

    • Adjustment to Loss of Independence: College students often get used to a high level of independence, making their own decisions about daily schedules, social activities, and personal responsibilities. Returning to a home where parents may be inclined to resume an authoritative role can lead to frustration and conflict.
    • Altered Family Roles: Both parents and returning students may struggle with the shift in family roles. Parents may find it difficult to see their child as an adult, while the student might resist reverting to their pre-college role within the family, such as adhering to old rules or expectations that no longer fit their developed sense of autonomy.
    • Communication Style Changes: Students often return home with new ideas, beliefs, and a more mature way of expressing themselves. This can lead to clashes if parents are not prepared for or open to these changes. Misunderstandings can occur if there is not a clear communication channel where each party feels heard and respected.
    • Reintegration with Siblings: If there are siblings at home who have adjusted to a new family dynamic in the absence of the college student, reintegrating can be challenging. Jealousy, rivalry, or shifts in attention can all contribute to tension.
    • Lifestyle and Routine Differences: College life can significantly alter a student’s sleep schedule, eating habits, and general daily routine, which might conflict with family norms and expectations at home.
    • Emotional Adjustments: Returning students may experience a range of emotions upon returning home. They may miss their independence, college friends, or the stimulating environment of campus life. Parents might misinterpret these feelings as unhappiness or withdrawal.
    • Expectations vs. Reality: Both students and parents might have idealized visions of what returning home will be like. Parents might expect more family time, while students might anticipate more freedom, leading to disappointment on both sides if expectations aren’t openly discussed and managed.

New Roles and Responsibilities

Upon their return, the established routines and roles within the home may need revisiting. Previously, rules and expectations might have been more parent-directed. Now, a more collaborative approach can be beneficial; one that acknowledges their maturity and encourages them to contribute positively to the household.


Constructive Advice for a Harmonious Homecoming

  1. Establish Open Dialogue: Encourage open and honest discussions about expectations on both sides. This includes discussion about boundaries, responsibilities, and shared goals. For example, while a curfew may no longer be appropriate, agreeing on communication when they plan to stay out late respects household norms without infringing too much on their autonomy.
  2. Respect Their Newfound Independence: Show appreciation for their achievements and the independence they have developed. Ask for their opinions on family matters, acknowledge their new skills, and give them space to apply these skills within the home.
  3. Create Space for Reconnection: Re-establishing your relationship doesn’t have to focus solely on responsibilities and expectations. Plan activities that foster bonding and allow you to experience joy together. This could be as simple as preparing a meal together or planning a family outing.
  4. Be Supportive Yet Flexible: Understand that readjustment may also be stressful for your child. They might miss their college life and friends. Being supportive in this moment means validating their emotions and expressing a sense of compassion for how  overwhelming this transition may be for them.
  5. Seek to Understand Before Being Understood: When disagreements arise, try to understand their perspective before pushing your own. Your role is no longer to be authoritative, but rather, to use these interactions as opportunities to provide guidance and support so that your child can continue to strengthen their own ability to problem solve. 

What Does A Normal Transition Back Home Look Like?


When your child returns home from college, you can expect several changes in their behavior. They will likely show a greater desire for independence, managing their own time and making decisions without much input. Privacy may become more important to them, often spending time alone. Their sleep patterns could be irregular due to the different lifestyle at college. Exposure to new ideas may lead them to question and discuss beliefs and opinions more openly. Emotionally, they may exhibit a wide range, from excitement about being home to possible frustration during family interactions. Additionally, reconnecting with old friends from high school might occupy a significant part of their time. 


However, below is a list of behaviors that may be cause for concern and worth addressing head on through open communication and support:

  1. Extreme Withdrawal: While some desire for privacy is normal, complete isolation or avoidance of family and friends can be a sign of deeper issues such as depression or anxiety.
  2. Persistent Sadness or Irritability: If mood changes are intense and do not improve with time, this could indicate underlying mental health problems.
  3. Significant Changes in Eating or Sleeping Habits: Extreme changes, such as sleeping all day regularly or very little at night, or drastic changes in eating patterns, can be signs of stress, depression, or other health issues.
  4. Substance Abuse: Increased or excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs, particularly if used as a coping mechanism, is a serious concern.
  5. Decline in Academic Performance: If your child expresses concerns about significantly poorer grades or a loss of interest in schoolwork, this might indicate academic stress or loss of direction.
  6. Expressions of Hopelessness or Worthlessness: Any talk that suggests feelings of despair or low self-esteem should be taken seriously and might necessitate professional help.


Ultimately, the return of a college student is a significant adjustment for the entire family, requiring flexibility, understanding, and open communication. By recognizing the growth and changes in their child, parents can better support them in integrating their college experiences into their home life. This not only smooths the transition but also enriches family relationships, making the homecoming a joyful and enriching experience for everyone involved.

Nikki Woods

Nikki Woods is a highly-sought after licensed clinical psychotherapist, founder of the Navesink Wellness Center in Rumson, New Jersey, and creator of Mindstream Daily Wellness App. After earning her Masters Degree at New York University, Nikki dedicated her career to studying the intricacies of the developing female mind.
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