Even the most enthusiastic and excited college freshman is bound to experience some homesickness during the first few months of college. The weeks leading up to leaving home and starting college are filled with packing, shopping, saying goodbye and imagining all of the new people and experiences that lie ahead. Once the move-in is complete and parents have said their farewells, the reality of the huge change that has just begun sets in quickly.
Living among strangers in a new, unfamiliar place without any of the familiar touchstones of home can be very difficult for some.
It's estimated that 20% of college students will rate themselves at the midpoint of severity for homesickness at one time or another. For those who feel homesickness more severely, depression and anxiety can develop.
"In a paper co-written by Chris Thurber and Edward Walton published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, homesickness is defined as 'distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.' Those who suffer from the condition feel some form of anxiety, sadness and nervousness, and most distinctly, obsessive preoccupation with thoughts of home, Thurber said." - CNN.com
Fortunately, most bouts of homesickness are far more mild than described here, but homesickness can be as painful as any physical ailment.
What can parents do to help or suggest their young adults do?
Stay home. Parents will feel the anguish their young adults are experiencing just by hearing their voice or seeing their face via Skype or FaceTime. It's tempting to send a plane ticket home or jump in the car to visit, but that's not the best choice.
Allowing your child to adapt to her new environment without the interruption of a visit from you is the way to go, even though it may cause both you and your child a few tears.
Encourage your young adult to be friendly every opportunity she gets. Be open to conversation wherever she goes, from lecture halls to coffee shops. It's hard to get the hang of meeting new people, especially if she has grown up in the same town and known the same people all her life, but putting herself out there is the only way to connect with others.
Resist the temptation to frequently call or text your college student. In most cases, no news is good news, and as their lives begin to fill up with activities and new acquaintances, students will contact parents and friends from home less and less.
Send a care package or two. Make sure you send fun, sharable things, like a big bag of popcorn or home made cookies. Encourage your child to offer goodies to roommates and others in the dorm. It's unlikely anyone will turn down the offer of a home baked treat, and it's a good way to break the ice.
Keep it light. Don't tell your homesick young adult how hard it is for you, too. Don't make her feel that home is not the same without her, or that your heart breaks every time you walk by her empty room.
Simply acknowledge her feelings and listen to her. She will sense your ambivalence about her being away from home if you aren't careful, so choose your words wisely.
Try a lot of things. Finding a place to feel at home on a big (or small) college campus is not an easy task. If your student is struggling to fit in, suggest joining an intramural activity or club. While this may sound obvious to you, many freshmen are apprehensive about approaching established groups and joining in. Gently but firmly ask your student to share with you the clubs and activities that are on campus, and help her to pick a few to check out.
Volunteer. There's no better cure for feeling blue than helping someone else. Whether it's working with animals, caring for children, or visiting senior citizens in assisted living to brighten their day, giving back to the community can help a lot.
Look into counseling on campus. If homesickness and unhappiness persist, find out about on campus counseling for your student. Most colleges and universities are well-equipped to deal with the emotional challenges of freshman year, and offer one-on-one support through their health services facilities.