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How to help your child with homesickness

How to Help Your Teen Tackle Homesickness While at Boarding School

Two weeks ago, your child couldn't wait to go away to school. Excited at the prospect of new friends, new social activities and an array of interesting classes, they’d been counting the days until their departure. Now your phone is suddenly ringing off the hook with calls, their grades are going nowhere fast and they can't seem to focus on anything except getting back home. Fast.

What happened? Was sending your child to boarding school the wrong decision? What should you do?

The short answer to this question is that your child is homesick. You both put a lot of time, effort and emotion into the decision to send your child away to school. But now the excitement of a new place has worn off, the impact of the transition is sinking in – and they’re realizing just what they’re "missing out on" at home. The good news is that homesickness is very normal, natural and, above all, temporary.

Homesickness is often triggered by a particular event – perhaps a low grade, a challenging social experience or simply some extra down-time – anything that gives your child reason to reflect on how much "better" life was at home. Key signs of homesickness often include excessive phone calls or emails (especially asking to come home!), cessation from or refusal to participate in organized activities – especially activities that they ordinarily enjoy, self-imposed isolation from classmates and/or roommates, general apathy or loss of interest in what's going on around them and constant references to home. Closely communicating with your child's counselor or advisor will help alert you to these and other signs that your child is experiencing some degree of homesickness.

As a parent, the best thing you can do to help your child deal with their homesickness is to first remember that this is a natural part of the adjustment process. It also helps to understand that homesickness is the process through which your child learns that they have not "lost" their home, but that they have in fact "gained" a whole new home and community.  Keep in mind that you are safe, and thus it is with you that your child will unload any problems or concerns.  You are less likely to hear the good and positive things, and more likely to hear from your child when they are feeling down.  

Below are also some specific steps you can take to help them move constructively beyond homesickness:

Recognize your child's vulnerability. If they need to talk, listen. No matter how you feel about the school or how much your own opinions may differ, it is crucial that your child knows that you hear and appreciate their concerns.

Give your child a sense of security. Establish a regular telephone "check-in" time and stick to it – even such a simple routine will go a long way towards helping your child build a sense of normalcy and security away from home. Likewise, be clear about when it is and is not acceptable for them to call – including the number of calls that are acceptable.

Encourage your child to get involved. Ask about your child's extracurricular activities, clubs and sports, and actively encourage them to take part. Asking them to recall the events that were enjoyable will likely help them remember the positive aspects, and also reassure you!

Help your child create a daily or weekly schedule that includes goals (such as accepting a social invitation or joining a club) and plans for how to use their free time (attending a sporting event or taking advantage of an organized recreational activity). Creating a daily plan will give your child a sense of security and give them the confidence to get involved in their new surroundings.

Stay in touch with your child's advisor, house faculty and teachers. They provide valuable insight into your child's progress, and you can support them in their efforts to help your child make a successful transition.

For the most part, a general bout of homesickness is relatively short-lived, but on rare occasions it can lead to more serious concerns. If, after a few weeks, your child shows no sign of improvement (the phone is still ringing off the hook, they are not participating in campus life or their grades are dropping), it's time to act. In addition to calling your child’s advisor, get in touch with the dean of students and/or the counselor for assistance and consider enlisting professional support for your child.

Handled positively and constructively, however, most cases of homesickness pass within two or three weeks.