Late spring and early summer can be an exciting time for parents with college students. But after the semester ends and students return home, families often face a period of adjustment.

Before their student left for school last fall, parents most likely had a good sense of what each day’s schedule would look like and when a curfew was in place. However, students living at college become accustomed to having the freedom to come and go as they please, to stay out late, and let few, if any, people know what their plans are. When students return home, there is often a mismatch in expectations and habits, which can cause stress for everyone.

What happens to one person in a family affects everyone, and a college student’s return home for the summer is no exception. Talking is crucial. The more families talk about expectations, hopes, and needs, the easier things go for all involved.

In talking with many families over the years, I have heard lots of ideas for how to ease the strain of this transition period. Here are seven tips that families have shared with me.

  1. Finances: Talk about financial expectations for summer. Do parents need students to work to contribute to the cost of books or tuition? If there is a work expectation, it can be helpful to talk about the expenses and how much the student is expected to earn and contribute.
  2. Chores: Discuss expectations for chores before or very soon after your student returns home. It is reasonable to expect all family members to pitch in and help, and the more families can talk about what is expected, and who will be responsible for those chores, the more harmonious it will be. College students may want to have a choice regarding which chores they do. Some families find it helpful to have a list and allow students to choose how they want to contribute.
  3. Schedules: Have a conversation about sleep-wake schedules. When students first return home, they often need a few days to decompress and sleep in, often very late. After this, it can be helpful to have a conversation about mutually agreeable sleep-wake schedules, how they can be accommodated, and at what time in the morning family members can carry on as usual regardless of whether a college student is still sleeping.
  4. Transportation: If car-sharing is required, talk about how negotiation for the car will occur. Will there be a central calendar on which family members can request use of a car? Will there be a certain time each week when family members talk together about who needs the car and when? The more family members know about each other’s needs and expectations, the better they typically feel.
  5. Curfew: Rather than setting or maintaining a curfew that worked when students were in high school, talk about reasonable expectations. If it is too disruptive to the household to have a student returning in the wee hours of the morning seven nights a week, discuss how many nights per week it is okay to come in very late. Also, families find it helpful to have a plan in place for when expectations cannot be met. If your student will return home later than expected, they should know who to call or text so parents do not have to worry.
  6. Socializing: Students often want to spend time with local friends during the summer, and often have a busy social schedule. Do not try to keep track of a complicated and frequently changing schedule. Instead, designate a few family times each week. Families have often remarked that this helps everyone make plans while also assuring that the family gets some time together to catch up and enjoy each other’s company.
  7. Making plans: Finally, some families find that it is helpful to plan a brief family meeting once a week to talk about plans for the week, what is coming up, and how things are going. If chores need to be changed around, this is a good time to discuss it.

Remember, this transition can be a difficult time. But it does not have to be with a little planning and some conversation.

If you are having problems, our Family Therapy Program can help. 

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Abigail Mansfield Marcaccio, PhD

Dr. Abigail Mansfield Marcaccio is a psychologist at the Men’s Health Center at The Miriam Hospital and the Family Therapy Program at Rhode Island Hospital. She specializes in helping couples, families, and individuals with life transitions, as well as difficulties in family functioning of any type.