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Dealing with Homesickness: Effective Coping Strategies for Parents

Updated: May 18

Helping your Student Adjust to University Life

The transition to university can be a time of mixed emotions for new students. Feelings of homesickness are usually due to the fact that dealing with the departure of a familiar environment and stepping into a world of sudden independence is both exhilarating and scary!

As the excitement mounts in the build-up to departure, and you’re preparing what to take to university (with our essential packing lists, of course!), it's important to remember that a student's apprehension is normal and will usually subside as they settle in and find their feet in their new setting.

Student in car being dropped off at college

Navigating the transition: Supporting Your Child Through Homesickness Challenges

For many students, the initial feeling of being out of place is less about missing home, and more about longing for the routine and comfort they have left behind. It's the little things, like a favourite meal or a familiar routine, that can trigger homesickness. Feeling homesick is an inevitable and natural part of the process of settling into a new environment.

Navigating the emotional rollercoaster of homesickness

Stressful emotions are also a normal part of university life. After the excitement of moving in and being swept up in the wave of Freshers’ Week inductions and parties, students may suddenly get a touch of the blues, experience fear or anxiety, and predict the worst about their social or academic abilities. However, with a little bit of patience and reassurance, these emotions can be managed.

It can be difficult to judge from an emotional phone call if a student is really struggling or if they're just having a challenging day. The hustle and bustle of campus life, coupled with the sudden introduction to independence; thinking about meals, transport, and finances, can be very overwhelming.

If possible, it’s best to not get caught up in the drama - take a step back, acknowledge their feelings and realise that this is only temporary.

Building Resilience: Strategies for Easing Homesickness

Building resilience to adapt to new circumstances is like getting used to the temperature of a swimming pool. The initial shock of getting in soon gives way to feeling more comfortable as the body adapts. In the same way, students will gradually become accustomed to their new environment once they fully engage with the coursework and actively participate in campus life.

One of the best ways to ease into campus life is sign up for activities and make new friends.

Practical Strategies to Help your Student Deal with Homesickness

Here are some proactive steps you can take to help ease your student's transition to campus life:

  • Expect initial discomfort: Acknowledge the probability of homesickness - it's only to be expected after all. They are more anxious about the unknown than having left home.

  • Emotions fluctuate: You're used to teenage emotions by now! Take a breath and understand that their feelings, both positive and negative, are temporary and will eventually balance out. Like when they were toddlers, don't succumb to the tantrums!

  • Set a timeline for adjustment: Give your student a timeline to acknowledge the adjustment period and give them a sense of direction and an endpoint. Don't react by rushing to their rescue. It won't be helpful to them in the long run.

  • Reflect on past successes: Encourage your student to think about their previous successes and strengths to navigate new challenges. Like when they went to summer camp, or a camping trip without you, and how they got through it ok.

  • Listen and be empathetic, but don't offer solutions: Sometimes they just need to vent and be heard. Ask active questions to help them find their own solutions.

  • Encourage your student to explore and get involved on campus: Encourage students to take small but consistent actions, such as trying something new each day, to build confidence and connections. Show your student that by signing up for a team sport, attending campus events, or finding out where the best coffee shop is, they can be open to different experiences and create new habits.

  • Create a comfortable space: If your student establishes a routine that keeps them occupied, they won't miss home as much and will look forward to creating their own cosy home environment instead.

  • Try texting instead of talking: If your student is particularly anxious and calls several times a day, try reducing the amount of time you spend on the phone, and text instead; as for some students, the sound of your voice can trigger homesickness.

  • Don't be cruel to be kind: When I left home, my mum redesigned my bedroom into her arts and crafts room. It was her dream and my nightmare! It was also her way of encouraging me to move on with my life. Wait until you make any radical changes to the home, as this can be very unsettling for your student, particularly when they are already dealing with homesickness.

Parent painting walls of a student's while at college won't help with dealing with homesickness
Don't redecorate the minute they leave!

Creating a Supportive Environment: Helping Your Student Cope

Support is important for any young adult in university, especially as they find their feet in an unfamiliar environment. The key is to encourage them to seek support on campus - whether that is confiding in roommates, hanging out with team mates, or seeking guidance from a student counsellor.

By just calling home for comfort, it prolongs the feeling of homesickness.

It is important for students to take advantage of the specialized resources, such as mental health support on campus who are qualified to help.

College football team camaraderie
Joining a sports team helps combat loneliness

Ultimately, as a parent, you want to do the best for your child. There are no fixed rules when it comes to contact. You need to judge what feels right for you. Be mindful of signs of depression, but don't cut the cord too abruptly.

Expressing how much you miss them can backfire, especially when they're dealing with homesickness. Instead send a care package and find a balance between support and encouraging independence. I used to send Amazon shopping packages filled with treats and essentials like washing powder or teabags!

Homesickness is common and your guidance will help your student through this phase. The vast majority adjust with a little time and support.

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