For most people that go away to college, it is the first taste of real independence or adulting. When (and if) you clean, work out, sleep, cook, shop and do homework are all up to you. You’ve made new friends, crammed for exams, drank way more coffee than you thought was possible, and then all of a sudden, you’re home. While winter break is a much needed time to recharge and seeing family again is exciting, there can be some tension. Here are some ways to ease the growing pains while back at home.

1. Spend Time With Your Family Together (and Separately)


Chances are that your family missed you just as much, if not more, as you missed them. While homework and catching up with friends are both important, so is spending time with your family. Use your time wisely and plan ahead if that is something that works for you. Take the time to hang with your family as a whole, but also separately. Try going to lunch with your dad or getting your nails done with your mom. It doesn’t have to be elaborate either. You could pick a movie for everyone to attend or a board game to play one night. Making your family feel like you want to be there and enjoy their company can ease the growing pains on both sides simply by showing you’re glad to be there.

2. Communicate Your Other Plans Effectively


Heading to a party at a high school friend’s house and won’t be back until late? Great- just be sure to communicate with your family. You know your parents better than anyone so that example may not apply to everyone, but if you’re missing dinner, staying out late or sleeping over somewhere be sure to let someone know. It doesn’t mean you’re any less grown up or mature than when you were at college doing your thing. On the contrary, it shows that you have respect for your family and can handle yourself.

3. Do a Few Good Deeds


Whether or not tensions have run high or not, doing something nice for someone else is a good way to show you care and get into the holiday spirit. Try bringing your mom/dad their favorite Starbucks drink or taking your younger sibling to the park. If you want to do a little extra you could take over some of the decorating, make dinner for everyone, or help wrap gifts. Also, if you have a chore list or know that your parents expect your room to be clean, accomplish those things before being asked (or scolded). Kindness and taking responsibility go a long way, especially with everyone adjusting to the new (and likely more independent) you.

4. Think Before You React


If you and your family do get into it or something is done or said that irritates you, take a moment to think before you react. Get your own emotions under control and identified before speaking so you don’t say something you’ll regret. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stand up for yourself, but rather that you should know what and why you’re going to say something. Also, take a second to identify the real problem. Are your parents upset because you didn’t text them you wouldn’t be home that day or because they were worried and missed you? If it’s the latter, refer back to #1 on this list. If it’s the first, refer back to number two. Try to have conversations instead of arguments and keep an open mind to keep your break as enjoyable as possible.

5. Set Boundaries Ahead of Time


Setting boundaries looks different for everyone, but they’re always helpful. You may have certain topics that you’d rather not discuss, times during the day you want to do your own thing, or literal physical boundaries while you’re home and that’s okay! Letting your family know your boundaries ahead of time allows not only for discussion but also acceptance. Use “I” statements to tell them how you feel and how said boundary will positively affect your time home. Also be sure to include if the boundary is for your immediate family or if it is for those visiting for the holidays because your parents or siblings could help you keep those in place. Speaking up for what you need beforehand lessens the chance of awkward or heated encounters later.

Going home after a slew of stressful finals can feel like a breath of fresh air, but it can also be uncomfortable as you adjust to living under someone else’s rules again. Spending time with your family, setting boundaries ahead of time, and doing small good deeds for others are all easy ways to ease the growing pains.

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