College is often described as the "best time of your life," but the beginnings can sometimes be bumpy. That can certainly be the case if homesickness becomes part of the new college experience.
JULIE: As a parent, there is nothing worse than the helpless feeling you get when your child is suffering. And homesickness is one of those times when you feel the most helpless, because you're separated from him or her.
Our family was lucky. Lindsey didn't suffer from severe homesickness. At least, not that she shared with us. But as a parent who has dealt with other forms of separation anxiety, and as a former college freshman who experienced my own bouts of homesickness, I know that the following things can help.
1. Be sympathetic: Assure your student that this is normal—(it is)—and that it will pass—(it will). You could even share your own experience–or that of an older sibling–of being homesick. As parents, we often want to "fix" things for our children, but what they may need more than anything is just to know that we understand.
2. Hide your own extreme emotions: Just like when you dropped your kindergartner off on the first day and held your tears until you were out of their sight, you'll want to keep your own extreme emotions in check when talking to your college student. Of course, you want your child to know that you miss him or her, but try to keep the conversation as positive as possible.
3. Encourage involvement: A homesick student may not feel like getting out there, joining in, or socializing, but those are exactly the things that will help them overcome their feelings. Discuss with your child the kinds of orientation activities a school offers before he or she even leaves home. That way, you can offer a reminder of those things when homesickness strikes.
[Learn 5 ways to stay focused and happy.]
4. Know when garden variety homesickness becomes something else: If you at all suspect that your child may be suffering from depression, take that seriously. Address it with him or her and seek the help of the school, if necessary.
[Read 5 tips for avoiding depression in college.]
LINDSEY: Even though I didn't attend school far from home, I still experienced homesickness from time to time, as most college freshmen do at some point. Even as a sophomore, I still find myself missing my family and my dog, and hanging out at my house.
So for all the college freshmen out there, here are my five tips for how to deal with homesickness:
1. Stay busy: Getting involved in activities that interest you will help in a couple of ways. First, you'll be so busy that you'll barely have time to miss home! Second, getting involved helps to form new circles of friends. The people I met last year in my sorority and through the Student Ambassadors program became my "family" while I was away from home, and were a great support system for me.
2. Don't go home at every chance you get: Because I was only 45 minutes away from home and had my car at school, it was tempting to want to run home whenever I got lonely or missed my little brother, but sticking it out is really the best way to get over homesickness. The more you can be at school making new connections, the faster the homesickness will ebb away.
[Learn how to avoid common freshman mistakes.]
3. Communicate with family and friends—often: Just because you're going to school away from home doesn't mean you have to miss out on what's going on with your loved ones. A quick text to my best friend when something reminds me of her, Facebook messages with my brother, and Skype sessions with my grandparents are easy ways to stay in touch.
4. Use snail mail: Parents love getting mail from you as much as you love getting it from them! Send pictures, greeting cards, or small gifts home whenever possible. (And parents, it doesn't hurt to get a care package from you, too, every now and then!)
5. Realize you're not alone: Ask around; you'll find that plenty of others are experiencing homesickness, too. Chances are they'll have even more suggestions for how to cope with it. Homesickness hurts, but it does get better with time.