The phone calls break your heart. The text messages and E-mails leave you unsure of what to say or how to support your student as they transition to his or her new life away at school. What can a parent do when faced with a student who, after longing to go away to college, now just longs to come home?
Unfortunately, college homesickness presents a tricky situation for parents. Your student may think that coming home is the best and only option, even though you think staying at school is the best idea. It can be quite a challenge to find a middle ground between these two options, especially when you hear your student's upset voice on the phone and know he or she is unhappy.
[See 5 ideas for college care packages.]
Here are things to do to when supporting a homesick college student:
1. Know it's not unusual. First and foremost, know that homesickness in college is very common. Students don't often talk about it with each other, but many of them suffer from it. Home cooked meals, a less rigorous schedule, and a life where everything isn't new and challenging provide great comfort. Who wouldn't long for that when faced with a brand new life designed to push students outside of their comfort zones?
2. Offer support. One of the best ways to help your student is simply to support them, encourage them, and listen to them. You can't make the homesickness go away, but you can help your student do things to make the homesickness go away. Listen through the tears but also spend time talking about what kinds of things he or she can do to feel less lonely and homesick.
[Learn 5 ways for students to stay focused and happy.]
Connecting to the new campus is critical for building a new sense of "home." What interesting clubs are there that your student might consider joining? When do they meet? What kinds of events are happening on campus this weekend? Which students might make good study partners? What are people in the residence hall doing this evening? Focus on the specifics of where and how and when your student can connect with other people and events on campus. And follow up on how those plans went next time your student calls.
3. Be reassuring. Lastly, reassure your student when they call. Sometimes, even a brilliant, bold college student just needs to hear a familiar voice.
[Read more tips on handling homesickness.]
Here are things to avoid when supporting a homesick college student:
1. Allowing too many trips home. One of the biggest mistakes parents make is letting their homesick student come home too often. Visits home every weekend can actually be detrimental to a student's ability to conquer their homesickness. After all, a student needs to establish college as their home away from home; visits back home prevent them from doing so by preventing students from building emotional, social, and intellectual connections with their school.
As much as it may break your heart, don't let your student come home every weekend. Set a weekend a month or two away when he or she can come home. That way, there's a date your student can expect to enjoy home cooking and sleep in a familiar bed, but your son or daughter will have to find ways to pass the time until that date comes.
2. Not keeping your distance. Similarly, don't visit your student too often. It can be incredibly tempting, especially if your student lives reasonably close, to go visit over the weekend. Just like too many visits home prevent a student from connecting with his or her new campus, too many visits from parents can be detrimental. Can you drive up and treat your daughter or son to a nice dinner? Of course. But keep it at that and leave once dinner is over. After all, the best way you can help your student conquer their homesickness is to support and empower him or her to view college as a home, too.
[Read 5 rules for visiting during parents' weekend.]
Are you struggling with a homesick student? Did you figure out a great way to support your student through their homesickness? Make sure to share your thoughts with other parents in the comments section below.