Help for the Homesick
Not all college students will get homesick when they go away to college. Many students adjust well, settle in, and have a wonderful experience. Other students may experience some homesickness, but their parents will never know about it. It may last a few days or a few weeks, the student will adjust and move on. But for some, the fear becomes reality—the student is homesick, miserable, and perhaps asking to come home. It is helpful for parents and students to understand that a certain amount of homesickness is completely normal. Students are dealing with unfamiliar situations, lack of routine and structure, loss of close friends, and readjustments of expectations. Some factors can increase the likelihood that your child may experience some degree of homesickness: no previous experiences away from home, difficulty making transitions, roommate issues, leaving a partner at home, concerns about family, or academic difficulties.
Although homesickness may occur during the first few days or weeks of college, it may also occur around mid-semester. Don’t assume that your student won’t ever be homesick just because they don’t experience it at the beginning of the semester. For some students, it may take until several weeks into the term before the novelty of the college experience begins to wear off, and the reality of studying and trying to find balance begins to sink in. Midterm exams may exacerbate underlying feelings. Here in Greeley, the coming cold and gray of November weather may be a factor.
My child is feeling homesick. What can I do to help them?
Although you may feel helpless at times, here are a few suggestions to help you help your college student through this time.
Be willing to listen to your student's feelings and validate that they are real. Sometimes just being able to express their feelings may be what your student needs. Don't trivialize or dismiss their feelings.
Recognize that colleges work at identifying and dealing with students who are experiencing homesickness. Orientation Leaders, Resident Assistants, counselors, and other college personnel are trained to help students adjust to college. Suggest that your student talk with someone on campus.
Remind yourself that increased independence is one of the goals for your college student. Going through this difficult phase may be part of the necessary process of emerging adulthood.
Although you want to let your child know that you miss them, don't dwell on how empty the house seems without them. Let them know that you are also adjusting.
Encourage your student to stay on campus rather than making frequent visits home. It is difficult to adjust to college if you are not there – especially on the weekends, when more of the social activity may occur.
Continue to make positive comments about UNC and the college experience. Don't buy into negativity expressed by your student.
Let your student know that you believe that they can handle this situation and make adjustments. You believe in them.
Suggest that your student take some time to make themselves more familiar with the campus. Study a campus map, take some walks around campus, and find some new and interesting places. The more familiar they are, the more quickly they'll feel comfortable.
Suggest that your student pick some small goals – for the next day or week – to do something to take action. Doing some small thing – attending a club meeting, having dinner with a new friend, talking to a professor, attending an athletic event – may help them to feel in control. Students who are more involved are happier students.
Help them think about whether some extra academic support may help with classes and schoolwork. Perhaps they are feeling overwhelmed and could use some help studying. Perhaps a study group would help – not only academically, but also socially. UNC offers free tutoring, too. Learn more about tutoring at UNC.
Encourage your student to explore their passions or find a new hobby. The Office of Student Life is a great way to find out more about clubs and organizations on campus: Clubs and Organizations List, University Program Council, and Fraternity and Sorority Life. Finding their place on campus fosters a sense of belonging for students and helps them feel more at home at UNC.
As parents, when you sense that your student is homesick or unhappy, your first tendency may be to rush to their aid and help them. As they work to adjust to college – and to a new form of adulthood – you may need to rethink how you support them. They still need you to be there for them, but the form of that support may change. Help your college student know that you are there, that you believe that they can and will adjust, and that they can take action to make things better.
Adapted from College Parents of America.