You haven’t seen your child for several months, since she left for her Freshman year of college. During that time, she has been completely independent, on her assent towards adulthood. You’ve trusted that you have instilled within her your values, morals, and integrity. And, now that she has returned, you are both equally excited and anxious about your reunion.

This adjustment period is a milestone for both of you. Enjoy each other’s company and reconnect before engaging in discussions about grades, financial planning, alcohol, drugs, sex, and social behavior.

Holidays in themselves are difficult, simply because of the expectations you assign to them. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, as it gives families a chance to move beyond expectations and focus on the gratitude of just being together. Once you become reacquainted and reconnected with your child and settle into the holiday spirit, it is then appropriate to discuss the more serious issues, and catch up with her semester away from home.

Here are some tips that can help you and your child successfully navigate her first holiday break from college:

  1. Be your child’s anchor and guide. While away at school, your child grappled with the push and pull of feeling like an adult, enjoying privileges of independence while still needing the support and continuity of mom and dad. Children grow up, but parents stay parents, so your child will continue to look back over her shoulder for your approval and acceptance. You will want to give freedom within limits. And those limits are the values that you established within your family. Your child needs to know that, no matter what, you can be counted on to be there for her, right or wrong, when needed, while you foster her independence and desire for freedom.
  2. Keep all lines of communication open. Touch base each day, even if it is just a little smiley face on a text message. A loving reminder from home is like a thread that helps your child reach back to the safety of home base. Then, when your child is home for the holidays, communication is easier because you established an ongoing pattern of contact during those months away.
  3. Send your child care packages and favorite snacks while she is in college. These serve to assure your Freshman year child that no matter what anxieties or fears she is experiencing as she adjusts to an unfamiliar environment, she is loved and cared for by her home team: you. Thus, when she returns for Thanksgiving, you have maintained the continuity of relationship that allows her to fall back into the swing of things at home.
  4. Remember: mutuality is the key to relationships. Your now older and more mature child has returned to you on the edge of adulthood. This is the time to encourage mutuality, respect, and empathic communication. This requires you to respect her privacy, her desire to see her friends, and to catch up on much needed rest. Also, soften rules for curfew and control so that your child can exercise responsibility and reliability without direction. This will show your child that you recognize her developing maturity. Also, being mature means that you can ask your child to check in periodically with a phone call, so you do not worry.
  5. Use the empathic process. When discussing grades or social behavior, keep in mind my empathic process. This tried-and-true approach offers a safe space in which you and your child can communicate, in an empathic and authentic way, without defense. This invests you and your child in the solutions and consequences of mutual problem-solving.
  6. Establish new rules. When your child returns home after having been away at school for several months, it is important to recognize that she is no longer a “high-schooler,” but rather, a young adult. Therefore, the old house rules no longer apply. Your expectations and demands transition into a new paradigm. Thinking and planning ahead helps you decide which house rules are important to you and which house rules can be relaxed – then you can pick your battles wisely. Remember, your child is striving toward independence. If you are wise, you will guide your child towards individuation, without making her pull away, and you will support her journey, rather than resist it.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.