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How to Manage When Your University Student Comes Home for the Holidays

A Survival Guide for Parents of University Students Coming Home for the Holidays

Expectations vs. Reality: What Changes When Your Teen Comes Home for the Holidays

When your teen moves to university, they are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They'll also be heavily reliant on you to organise their move, help them pack, prepare, and get them there. They'll need money, help with managing their budget, paying bills, and what to do if they get sick.


And you will worry. This may be your first child to fly the nest, or your last one emptying the nest. Either way, you'll worry.


But it's not just their safety and university experience that will make you anxious. It's their return home!


Roll on the Christmas holidays and their first visit back home after their first term away at university… Things have changed.

When University Students Come Home for the Holidays


By Christmas, your student will have been their own decision-maker every day for around 100+ days. A lot can happen in 100 days. Whether positive or negative, their new ways may come as a bit of a shock to you when your university student returns home for the holidays. They've developed a sense of responsibility and self-discipline that suits them (not necessarily you).


Here are a few of the habits your student may have developed in the short time they've been away from home.

  1. No-one to tell them when to go to bed and get up in the morning. So they just sleep.

  2. They have a body clock and eating habits that suit them (your mealtimes may differ).

  3. The cereal you stocked up on in bulk for their return is no longer their favourite.

  4. Hygiene standards may have dropped a level (in your eyes) and washing up can be done later / on another day, right?

  5. Music tastes have ‘evolved’ to something you may not be a fan of.

  6. They're hungry. Like, all the time. Especially with a well-stocked fridge in front of them.

  7. They're broke. And don't even ask them what they do with their loan/grant - they don't even know where it all goes.

  8. They've put on weight. All that beer drinking, partying, eating junk food and lack of exercise in the first term usually leads to the infamous "Freshers Weight".



Ways in which Your Relationship with Your Student will Never Be The Same

So where do you and your role stand now? You may have longed to have your university student back home for the holidays, but reintegrating your newly independent adult into family life may not be as easy as you think.


So, they'll rock up with suitcases full of dirty washing which you'll lovingly pounce on to do the parental thing the minute they arrive. And you'll have made their favourite meal, and – it turns out – they became vegan at university.

Oops, didn't they tell you? 

And then you'll sit down for said meal where you'll restrain yourself from firing off 100 questions, and perhaps talk about current affairs or some celebrity you’ve read about, and BAM! your student will have very strong opinions on the subject(s).

They won’t just be sitting around the table listening to their parents talk anymore, they’ll be actively debating and arguing, potentially on an equal footing. This may come as a shock to the system.


A family gathering around the dining table

What to Expect When Your University Student Comes Home for the Holidays


This is period of transition. Out with the young, In with the new adult. It can take some time to adjust, but adapt you must.  Here are some things to keep in mind during this transition phase, until you figure out how you're going to morph into the parent of an adult-child in the very near future:


  1. Your opinion is just that, it's no longer gospel. It may or may not be solicited, and more than likely be rejected if proffered.

  2. Your solution is up for debate, they may have a better way.

  3. Thou shalt not criticise their clothes, footwear, piercings, tattoos, partners, sexual preferences, sleeping habits, or weight.

  4. You can ask questions. Expect guarded answers.

  5. Less is more - be content with what you get.

  6. Acknowledge your place in their lives. Where you were once the source of all information, now it's ChatGPT and TikTok.

  7. Nothing they say or do is personal - don't be offended.

  8. If they choose to hang out with their friends over spending time with you, that's ok. They know you are there - friends take more effort.

Ways Parents Can Support Their University Student When They’re Home for the Holidays


But it's not all negative…

Here's what you can do to nurture your relationship while in this transition to independence phase:


  1. Answer your phone when they call. If it's rare, there's a reason.

  2. Make the medical appointments for them. They'll learn eventually. Just get it done.

  3. When they do open up and chat, ask if they want you to just listen or to give guidance.

  4. If you have to have an awkward conversation, go for a walk or a drive in the car. Facing forward helps.

  5. Be honest if you don't have an answer to their issue(s). They'll respect you for admitting you don't know (and then they'll turn to AI for the answer!)

  6. Talk about their goals, and how they can take small realistic steps that are SMART enough to achieve and give them a sense of accomplishment. Buy them a daily planner to help them keep track of their goals and steps.

  7. Help them learn how to prioritise. Without nagging. Show them how to prioritise the most important things that they need to get done such as assignments or food shopping before they run out of milk for tea, etc. before they spend the next 3 hours mindlessly scrolling on TikTok or watching Netflix.

  8. Acknowledge any setbacks and celebrate the small wins.



Reconnecting with your Student


It's not all bad. Come the second term, or when they return home again for the summer, they'll have changed again. It may still feel like they’re sleeping 20 hours a day, but that’s because their bed at home is the most comfortable thing in the world and fosters positive memories. In the few hours they're awake and responsive, they may have matured further. 

They may offer to cook dinner. Let them – even if they use every pan in the house and make a mess. That’s their way of showing their love – relish it! 

If they offer to help with doing the weekly food shop as an excuse to drive the car, let them. Even though the fuel gauge may have gone down significantly as they have toured the neighbourhood to see all their friends. 

And if they offer to wash and clear up after dinner, but they leave a few things to ‘soak’ in the sink, let them. It required an effort and again showed their love.



It is a transition, and while it may take a while for both of you to get through it, I can tell you that enjoying an adult relationship with your university student on a different level when they’re home for the holidays is so rewarding.

And that's when you get to congratulate yourself on your own achievement. Well done you!

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If you need more help or guidance on how to navigate the transition from high school to university, check out our website. There you will find useful blogs, resources, and tricks for student savings such as meal planning, efficient food shopping, and tips on how to help your children survive and thrive on campus.


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