Pat yourself on the back. You’ve survived the first few weeks since your child left for university or college. She or he didn’t end up in an intoxicated heap during frosh week, didn’t get lost on the way to class and hasn’t been propositioned by lewd strangers.
However, you may not have prepared for your child’s emotional response to being away from home. You may have imagined that your kid would be happy to be out on his or her own, free from parental supervision. But the truth is, many young adults who have never spent prolonged periods of time away from their families may experience intense emotional reactions.
Instead, when the excitement of frosh week is over and reality has hit, kids may start to miss the comforts and familiarity of home. These strong feelings of loneliness, sadness, anxiety and loss are summed up in one word – homesickness. It might be hard for kids in their late teens to admit to feeling this way, but you’ll sense when they do.
So what should you do when you suspect or find out that your child is suffering from homesickness?
Encourage them to talk about their feelings and reassure them that they are normal
You will likely pick up on changes in their emotional tone or behaviour very quickly, even when they don’t tell you directly how they’re feeling. In this case, raise the topic yourself. Let them know that you are available to talk at any time. Video chats can provide even more assurance for some.
Don’t rush to the rescue
Even though your heart may ache at the sound of your child’s voice and loneliness, give them time to settle in and prove to themselves that they can manage on their own. It’s not unusual for it to take a month to start feeling more comfortable with this huge change. If you bring them home every weekend, they’ll be starting all over again every Monday. Rather, encourage kids to remain in residence for a few weeks prior to returning home for visits.
Bite your tongue
Your kids will feel worse if they hear that you’re falling apart without them. Don’t say: “I know how you feel. I’m barely eating or sleeping myself since you’ve left.” Instead say: “I’m missing you, too, but I’m proud that you made the decision to be part of a great program. I’m sure that you will soon feel more confident and comfort-able with your new surroundings.”
Look for professional help
If your child is not more settled over the next week or two, is still calling home every few hours, is unable to sleep, experiencing panic attacks, not attending class or not eating as a result of anxiety, get outside help. Colleges and universities all have departments with experienced counsellors. I sometimes recommend getting involved in this process, especially if your child is exhibiting the symptoms I’ve mentioned.
With patience, time and support (when needed), your child will probably make a good transition from feeling homesick to being right at home.
Sara Dimerman is a psychologist, author and mom to two daughters. For more advice, check out helpmesara.com.