Home for the Holidays: A Survival Guide for College Students

You did it – you made it through your first set of college final exams! You’re happy to finally begin your holiday break, but you’re about to return to the family nest, and family gatherings are on the horizon. While homecoming can be a joyful time for some, for others can bring anxiety and stress.  

As a first-year college student, readjusting to life at home can be uncomfortable and even overwhelming. During this extended visit, you’ll have to follow ‘house rules’ and interact with family members who may have different social or political views and values than you. It’s also more than likely that family life has changed since you left for college.  

It can be a strange time. Everything’s the same – but not. You’re different. Your family dynamic is different. Everyone has to adjust. 

It can be intimidating, but don’t worry. This article will provide tips on how to survive and enjoy coming home for the holidays. 

5 Ways to Survive the Holiday Break


  1. Communicate with your family before the break –  Before you leave campus, it’s really important to talk with your family to share plans and set expectations. Let them know how long you’ll be around and ask them if they have any special requests, events, or plans for your time together. Share any special plans of your own. If there are any conflicts or disagreements, don’t let them build up — talk about them now! This will help prevent awkwardness, hurt feelings, and misunderstandings once you’re home.
  2. Negotiate house rules- Your parents may have difficulty seeing you as an adult who has been living on their own. That’s a common experience for many college students returning home. As a result, they may try to enforce house rules that were fine when you lived at home, but now seem unreasonable or unnecessary. For example, if they want you to be home by curfew every night when there’s no particular reason why, talk it over with them and explain why these rules aren’t necessary anymore.  Remember – this is all new for them too! For your part, be aware that your lifestyle and daily rhythms might be very different from the rest of your family’s — for instance, you may no longer be the early-to-bed teen they knew!  As you settle in, be considerate of your family’s routines and hours.  
  3. Don’t spend too much time on social media– Sometimes we find ourselves spending too much time online instead of enjoying our family’s company or having meaningful conversations with them. Make sure you set aside time to catch up and talk. Your family will be interested in what has been going on in your life, your college experience so far, and your future plans. This is also an opportunity to hear about what they’ve been doing during the last few months.
  4. Catch up with old friends- If you are close with anyone from back home, talk to them ahead of time about their holiday plans. This will give you an idea of what’s going on around town and help you plan a few activities.  Knowing when you might see old friends can help things at home feel a little less stifling.
  5. Set aside “alone time”- You’ll have so many people to catch up with that it can get overwhelming at times, so make sure you take some alone time. Work out, take a walk by yourself, read a book, or watch TV in your room. This will help you relax and recharge, so you can enjoy the time you do spend with your loved ones. This is your break, and a busy semester awaits, so be sure to take time for self-care. 

When family gatherings get opinionated

When politics are brought up during family gatherings, things can get awkward and uncomfortable – fast. You may feel like you must choose between being honest and true to your views, and avoiding the subject, especially if your opinions differ significantly from those of your relatives. If the conversation is getting acrimonious, the best way to handle this situation is to listen, be prepared for different reactions from each person, pick your battles, and have an exit strategy ready. 

You can say something like “I don’t want to argue about this. Let’s talk about something else.” Or “I hear what you’re saying, but I also have some thoughts on the topic that I think are important too, so let me tell you what I think.” Then share your perspective in a calm tone of voice and let them respond without judging or interrupting them. If the language coming at you becomes inflammatory, condescending, or insulting, try not to get defensive — be the adult in the room and just say something like “That’s not right/true/fair/reasonable/acceptable” and then change the subject. You may feel strongly about the issue under discussion, but it’s a family event and nobody wants it to disintegrate into a shouting match. 

In the end, just enjoy and participate in family life as much as is comfortable. Pitch in and help out, spend one-on-one time with your close family, and remember to show appreciation – for instance, when your favorite foods are served! Share traditions or make new ones and let them get to know the cool young adult you are. 

Just as important, take time and space to rest and renew your social batteries, and speak up for what you need. 

Don’t let stress get to you! Instead, be open to new experiences and new opportunities, and do what you need to do to stay relaxed and positive. College life is exciting and busy, and being home can be a much-needed chance to recharge, so try to focus on all the positives of being home for the holidays. We hope it’s a comfortable, enjoyable time for all of you! 

Need help?  

If family stress feels overwhelming, look for a safe person and space in which to talk. The Bougainvilla House is here for you, with an understanding and welcoming staff and environment ready to assist you and your family. Take that important first step and ask for help.      

The Bougainvilla House also offers Workshops to provide tools and strategies that support healthy families and nurture future generations as they grow.       

Call now to find support for you and your family: (954) 764-7337.