For many college students, it is true that there is no place like home for the holidays no matter how far away they roam. However, going home over winter break requires adjusting from a college lifestyle and back to following rules at home. It is also a period of time where young adults evaluate how they are managing in school and readjust their goals for the following year, making new year’s resolutions to drop out, take time off, or change unhealthy habits if they are struggling. While students may focus on the highlights during phone calls with their parents, they may hide how they are really doing until they come home to visit. As a result, many parents struggle with connecting with their college student over winter break and accepting that they are more independent than they used to be, even if they are experiencing failure to launch

Changing Relationship with Your College Student 

In one recent survey of roughly 14,500 college students across the U.S., three in five respondents said their relationship with their parents had improved since they started college; a quarter said the relationship was “much better.” It is possible that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it is most likely attributed to students’ tendency to describe the relationship as improved “could be indicative of a shift in how young adults view the role of the parent as one of confidant and adviser rather than authoritarian. 

Still, it is natural for young adults to question how they fit in at home now that they are no longer living there all the time. Many students feel like they return home and are automatically in high school all over again. They see old friends, argue with their parents about curfew, and may even expect their parents to take on responsibilities for them. Parents are often faced with a dilemma: remembering what their relationship was like when they were more involved in their child’s life and recognizing that their child is more than capable of doing things on their own.  

What If They’re Struggling in School?

One of the biggest shifts in relationships between adults and their adult children is that young adults are used to their parents coming to their rescue and offering solutions. As students go off to college and are forced to take care of themselves, often for the first time, many notice their mental health suffers, yet they are unsure how to reach out for help. When they return home for winter break, they may reveal how overwhelmed they feel and head straight to their room for a few weeks. While some students count down to returning to college where they can pick back up on habits, others feel safer at home and lose motivation to return. 

Winter break can be a critical period for them to decompress from the stress of the semester, but it can also escalate problems that they were having at school or, at least, make them visible to parents. It is difficult for parents to determine how to support their child without taking away their right to make decisions for themselves. It is common for young adults to respond to parents’ interventions by claiming that “they are not a child anymore.” Regardless, parents remain an invaluable part of their support system through their college years. 

Ways to Connect Over Winter Break


  • Give them space. No matter how much you want to take advantage of the short time you have together, remember that they are no longer used to being around family members. They may need some time to themselves or may want to leave the house on their own instead of joining family plans. While your child may seem distant and isolated, some level of alone time is healthy.  
  • Be open about what each of you expect while they are home. Especially for younger students, be upfront about what you expect from them around the house. However, be flexible about what they want to do while they are home. If you can’t find a balance, there will be tension between you. Remind them to be realistic about their expectations: having free time will be refreshing, but they will get bored. Catching up with their old friends will feel nostalgic, but it might also feel different. 
  • Be cautious about certain topics of conversation, particularly around other people. While your child’s mental health may be the white elephant in the room over the holidays, they may feel like they are doing a good job of hiding the problems they are having. They may be defensive at first if you confront certain issues they are experiencing, but are more likely to shut down completely if you bring things up around their siblings or other family members. There not be an ideal time to address their struggles, but it is important to be sensitive around when you bring up relationships, academics, or substance use that may be overwhelming to think about for them.
  • Invite them to plan fun activities. Many families have annual traditions revolved around family-friendly activities, but children often lose interest over time. Be willing to come up with new activities that keep them engaged. Remember that now that you are both adults, you may be more likely to share an interest in activities-like family hikes, travel, or cooking together.
  • Collaborate on a game plan for the next few months. Most college students consult their parents in their decision-making processes. This is easier when it comes to logistics and life skills than when it comes to personal growth. However, the holidays are a good time for young adults to reflect on their circumstances and brainstorm changes they want to or need to make in their lives with their parent’s support.


blueFire PulsaR Can Help 

blueFire PulsaR is a co-educational wilderness therapy program for young adults ages 18-28. This program addresses emotional, social, and behavioral problems in young adults who are considering dropping out or experiencing “failure to launch” syndrome. Adventure therapy, wilderness ventures, equine therapy, academic opportunities and “family spark” are used to help students open up and look at their life. From there they are able to experience growth and adopt healthy self-management skills. This program is dedicated to helping students regain a better sense of the world around them while addressing their emotions and needs head on.

For more information about how we help struggling college students, contact us at 1 (844) 413-1999. We can help your family today!

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