This month, thousands of parents sent their children off to college for the first time. If you’re one of these parents, you’ve probably received a few panicked phone calls. Every child has questions when they first move out and live on their own.
While answering any tactical questions or phone calls is easy, dealing with calls from a homesick child is another story. Nothing is worse than hearing your child struggle while they are miles away from you.
Fortunately, there are many effective and meaningful ways to support your freshman from afar. Here are three effective tips you can implement as your child navigates feelings of homesickness:
How to support your homesick college student
1. Keep calm and carry on
As parents, it can be natural to want to swoop in and rescue a child who is missing home or feeling lonely. However, attempting to solve all of your child’s problems can do more long-term damage. Providing constant solutions may teach your child that they are incapable of overcoming obstacles on their own.
Conversely, Dr. Avital K. Cohen, a licensed psychologist, says, “Anytime you overcome a stressful situation, you can increase your awareness of your own resiliency.” Do not deprive your child of discovering their own innate courage by acting like their personal superhero.
It may also be helpful for parents to remember that homesickness is extremely common. According to researcher Talita Ferrara, “The transition from high school to college is an important milestone in a student’s life. For many young adults, this marks their first time being away from home for an extended period.”
Ferrara continues, “Although the experience of pursuing a college degree and achieving a sense of autonomy from one’s family of origin can be exciting and invigorating, students can also find this transition to be anxiety-provoking and isolating. Consequently, homesickness is tied to these feelings of isolation and anxiety.”
Chances are you’ve experienced feelings of isolation, anxiety and homesickness in your own life. Reflecting on those experiences might also help as you steadily interact with your struggling child. Having a full-view understanding of what your child is experiencing can help you remain calm despite their distress.
2. Listen, validate and encourage — in that order
While running to the rescue is not the solution for your child’s ultimate well-being, there are extremely impactful ways you can offer your child support from home. Providing a listening ear for your student’s concerns and grief will be especially impactful when they are feeling alone.
According to an article on homesickness from Southern Utah University, “One of the best ways to help your student is to simply listen and support them. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to and a safe place to express his or her feelings. It might not be necessary to offer feedback or suggestions, just understanding.”
Again, once you’ve listened to your child’s concerns and fears, it is easy to want to immediately offer solutions. However, validating your child is even more effective. Validation looks like affirming another person’s feelings. This may look like saying, “This sounds very hard” or “It sounds like you really miss your friends.”
Once you’ve listened to your child and validated their emotions, express sincere confidence in their ability to overcome hard things. Remind your child of other hard things they have overcome and the strengths they possess. Knowing that somebody believes in you can make all the difference.
3. Encourage your child to get involved
Let’s imagine that you’ve listened, validated, and encouraged your child. Now, they are asking you for real strategic advice. One of the best suggestions you can offer them is to get involved on campus.
“When we’re feeling bad, our inclination is to retreat,” says author and psychologist Tamar Chansky, per U.S. News & World Report. “It’s important to create new rituals, find the place where everyone knows your name.”
Getting involved is critical for new students as they build their new normal. Meeting new peers will allow them to build a new community and build relationships that will provide them with support.
Meeting new people or attending new events may push your child outside of their comfort zone. Continue to encourage your child and remind them that they truly are capable of doing challenging things.