Living with children (again): how to handle kids returning home from university

Published on
31 August 2021

Your child is returning home from university. Either for the summer or after finishing studying completely – but what impact will that have on the family dynamic?

After they’ve caught up on their washing, got over the novelty of a fridge packed with food and taken advantage of a full tank of petrol in the car, it’s time to set a few ground rules to keep everyone happy.

During their time away, they’ll have become used to certain freedoms, and making the most of your time together also means sometimes letting them call the shots.

Look out for casual work

Even before your child is home, you can try and scope out any seasonal jobs or potential casual work in the local area.

Most students would love to return to university in the autumn with a bit of spending money saved, and it’ll also give them a bit of a routine over the summer months.

There’s a fine line between letting them know you’ve spotted a work opportunity and badgering them to get a job, so try and get their thoughts on the matter before you go offering to help type up a CV.

Include them meal time decisions

When you’ve lived off student food for the past term, all you want is a good home-cooked meal.

However, imposing meal times on your child and dictating what’s on the menu is – excuse the pun – a recipe for disaster.

Every week, let them know what you’re planning to make and when you’re hoping to sit down to eat. If they’re not keen, or have made other plans, there’s no reason to be offended. Good communication around this will help your child feel like you’re listening to them and appreciate that they have their own life too.

A good idea is to ask your child for their shopping list when you head to the supermarket, or better still, invite them along. Let them do their own shopping and their own cooking if they desire – it’s what they’re accustomed to now. Maybe establish a takeaway night where you can eat together. Or give them the responsibility of cooking for the family once a week.

Plan some days out together

A student may still have a busy social calendar, even when they’re away from university. It’s when they’re most likely to catch up with old friends, and video calling means that they might be catching up with their new friends too.

To expect your son or daughter to spend all day every day with you is a big ask – and one that might not go down too well. But putting the ball in their court may keep everyone happy. Find out if there’s anywhere they want to go while they’re back, anything they’re keen to see or do. Your role may be ‘glorified chauffeur’, but it’s time spent out of the house together.

Shopping for new clothes in September, visiting other family members or enjoying a walk together are all enjoyable days out.

Encourage learning a new skill

It may seem like the last thing a student would want to do in their time away from university, but most people would love to learn a new skill, and what better time is there than the holidays?

It may be that your child is keen to learn to drive, improve their cooking skills, or master the guitar. There’s no harm in asking how they plan to spend the summer and if you can encourage an area of personal development, it can give a bit of structure to the holidays.

If there are no summer jobs on the cards, having a goal in mind may be the encouragement they need to get up and embrace the day. Perhaps it could be something you try and learn together. If there are no summer jobs on the cards, having a goal in mind may be the encouragement they need to get up and embrace the day. Perhaps it could be something you try and learn together.

Give them space

Constant probing and nagging isn’t going to get you anywhere, and they’ll be at pains to point out they’re not a child anymore. Now is the time for a new approach.

They’re learning and they’re working towards a vocation, so now is not the time to discuss their career plans in detail – it’s your opportunity to spend some time together before they pack up and head back to university or move out to embark on their career.

And as difficult as it may be to understand, they probably won’t want to spend all that free time with you. Let your child make their own plans and offer to facilitate them wherever you can.

Give them some space by making plans of your own; arrange some days away or nights out for yourself, and they’ll no doubt thank you for it.