How to Help Your Teen Tackle Homesickness While at Boarding School
Two weeks ago, your son couldn’t wait to go away to school. Excited at the prospect of new friends, new social activities and an array of interesting classes, he’d been counting the days until his departure. Now your phone is suddenly ringing off the hook with his calls, his grades are going nowhere fast and he can’t seem to focus on anything except getting back home. Fast.
What happened? Was sending him to boarding school the wrong decision? What should you do?
effort and emotion into the decision to send him away to school. But now the excitement of a new place has worn off, the impact of his transition is sinking in – and he’s realizing just what he’s “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 he or she ordinarily enjoys, self-imposed isolation from classmates and/or roommates, general apathy or loss of interest in what’s going on around him/her 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 his/her 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 he or she has not “lost” his home, but that he has in fact “gained” a whole new home and community.
There are also some specific steps you can take to help him/her move constructively beyond homesickness:
- Recognize your child’s vulnerability. If he needs 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 his 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 him to call – including the number of calls that are acceptable.
- Encourage him to get involved. Ask about your child’s extracurricular activities, clubs and sports, and actively encourage him to take part.
- 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 his 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 him the confidence to get involved in his new surroundings.
- Stay in touch with your child’s advisors, dorm parents and teachers. They provide valuable insight into your child’s progress, and you can support them in their efforts to help him 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, he/she is not participating in campus life or his/her grades are dropping), it’s time to act. In addition to calling your student’s advisor, get in touch with the dean and/or the student 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.