5 Ways to Help Your College Kid Transition Home for Summer

The first days following a student’s return from college rarely meet the expectations of the student, the parents, or the rest of the family. Mighty Mommy sat down with her own college kids to discuss this pivotal time and shares five tips for making the transition easier.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #376

Often, parents greet the summer return of their college kids with mixed feelings. It seems like it was just yesterday many of us were experiencing that bittersweet turning point in life where we dropped them off at college to begin their new life without us guiding their every move. Personally, I’ve gone through this several times already and although it is heartwrenching to drive off campus and leave a child on their own, it’s also gratifying to know we’ve gotten them this far.

The first days following a student’s return from school rarely meet the expectations of the student, the parents, or the rest of the family. Family members expect that things will be like always, and the student will slip back into the daily routine and take on typical family roles and chores. For the student, however, coming home is not just a return but a genuine transition. He or she has developed a whole new life outside the family, including new daily patterns. Any transition requires energy, and students who have just finished up exams, packed up their rooms, and said goodbyes to good friends are already exhausted. They’re not prepared to take on the stress of figuring out how to fit back into the family.

Mighty Mommy sat down with her own college kids to discuss this pivotal time and shares 5 tips on how to ease your college student’s transition home so the entire family can enjoy a healthy, relaxing summer.

Tip #1:  Embrace How They’ve Changed

The first year of college offers a wealth of personal growth experiences. Your student has been away from home for nearly a year, and he or she is returning from his or her first full opportunity to live as an independent adult. My own college kids stressed the importance of recognizing that we are not living with the same child that was in our home last summer.

It’s normal to be excited to have your child home with you again and want everything to be the same as it was before, but college students develop their own schedules and habits, which are often influenced by their new environment and roommates. Your son may come home no longer enjoying some of the comfort food casseroles he used to love growing up because he’s on a gluten-free kick. You may not love these choices, but love your child for the individual he or she is and accept that your student is learning to make his or her own decisions. And if those choices aren’t causing harm, try not to judge.

During final exam time, I try to send my college kids a care package.  Most colleges and universities have this service available, and I can schedule it online.  In addition to the care package, I send them a handwritten card telling them I’m looking forward to having them home again as well as getting on board with our new summer schedules. Sometimes laying the groundwork in advance plants a little seed that you miss them, want to welcome them back but also realize that things will be different, and that’s OK—it’s going to be a change for the entire family, not just them, so you’ll all need to work together to get your groove going for the summer.

I like to schedule a 1:1 outing such as a late lunch or trip to the mall for my college kid and I so we can connect and have time together—just the two of us. One of my kids is moving home next week after his freshman year away and we’ve already picked his favorite wing place to eat at.  When you’re accepting of the young adults they are now becoming you may well reduce the areas around which you have conflict.

Tip #2:  Lay the Groundwork for Re-Entry

After your student has been home for a few days, it’s a great time to lovingly address your expectations and/or rules (and his) for how you see life in your home for the summer.  After being on their own for months and not having to answer to anyone with a curfew or certain chores that need to be done, getting back into the swing of a structured routine and set rules can be difficult on everyone. 

In our family, regardless of whether the student has a job or not, we still expect them to help out with a chore throughout the summer.  We establish early on what his contribution will be so he can work that into his social and work life. 

Sleep is another factor that requires some give and take. Most of my teens and college kids love sleeping until well after noon. When my kids first come home, I definitely make allowances for this so they can get caught up on rest, but then we pick a reasonable time (like 10 a.m.) after that so that the rest of the family can do what they need to.

If sharing the family car is a consideration that can definitely require flexibility on everyone’s part, but better to address your expectations of when your student may or may not have access to your car at the beginning of the summer rather than stressing over this on a daily basis. My kids have their own cars, but my neighbor’s kids share the two family cars so they have a sign out sheet in the kitchen so they can call dibs on a car if they know in advance when they will need one.

The other expectation I have is that I need a phone call or at least a text if they are going to be out later than usual or stay with a friend for the night etc.  Having a worried parent calling and looking for their child all night is stressful for both parties so as long as I get an update from them every once in a while we can all relax and enjoy those late evenings a whole lot more.   See Also: 6 Ways to Improve Family Communication


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.