Heading off to college is a milestone that many people look forward to—in the 2018-2019 school year, nearly 20 million students attended American colleges and universities.
If your child is in this crowd, they’ve hopefully selected a good-fit school, possibly taken out student loans to pay for their chosen college, and packed up and moved all the requisite gear.
As exciting as this phase of life can be, experiencing some level of homesickness during the home-to-college transition is fairly common. According to one study, 54% of first-year college students feel a moderate sense of homesickness due to separation from their families.
As a parent, you may feel a sense of responsibility when it comes to helping your now-adult child get over their homesickness.
And there could be a reason for concern, since studies have shown that emotional or mental distress in college students can possibly impact academic performance.
The following are some strategies you might employ to support your child, as well as a few things to avoid (or to suggest they avoid).
Acknowledging the Situation
It can be comforting to know that you’re not the only one struggling with a given situation. So as a parent, it might be helpful to share with your child how common homesickness is among first-year students.
Share how common this feeling is—about 81% of students report missing their families to some extent.
Psychologist and writer Tamar Chansky agrees . Speaking with The Huffington Post, she recommends telling your child that “it’s OK and normal to feel this way, [that] these bad feelings are temporary, and this is part of how change happens.”
According to Chansky, this kind of thought process reminds your body there’s not truly a need to be alarmed. Normalizing a negative feeling could potentially help it go way faster.
Helping Your Child Find a New Familiar
It’s probably not the best idea for parents to visit their child every weekend—though it may be hard to control yourself, if your child’s university is easily accessible. As lovely as it is that you’re a familiar face, it might be more helpful for your child to find a new familiar.
That’s because feeling homesick is partially about not feelanding comfortable where you are, says clinical psychologist and professor Joshua Klapow .
So parents might encourage their child to help them make their not-yet-so-familiar home feel more known. If your college student loves coffee, they might want to find a local shop they can visit frequently—their own personal coffee haunt.
If they’re into museums, discovering the best ones nearby could help them feel more grounded in their new environment.
Getting Involved on Campus
When someone is feeling down, it can be tempting to stay indoors and wallow in those feelings. But keeping to themselves won’t help new students connect to their community, and connecting might be key to adjusting and settling in.
Drexel University Office of Counseling and Health Services says that its number one tip for students transitioning to college life is to get involved . That means opting out of the dorm room and into campus activities: a student organization, a sports team, the school newspaper, or a volunteer club, for example.
“Clubs and organizations let students congregate around a common cause, interest or course of study at a time when social connections are crucial,” says Amma Marfo, a former higher education practitioner.
If committing to a club feels like too much, your child might connect with peers in a more casual way, from making friends in class or meeting new people during a dorm hall function.
Developing Healthy Routines
Physical health and mental health go hand in hand, so if your homesick college student is making less-than-healthy choices during this tough transition period, encourage them to make some routine changes.
That might look like keeping active with independent exercise sessions or fitness classes on campus. Student Health and Counseling Services at UC Davis suggests working out for 30 minutes a day , which in turn can help you sleep better.
Maintaining a healthy diet is important, too, since studies have shown that what you eat can impact your brain and how you feel.
Using social media in moderation might also be a good idea. While Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like can help your child connect with others digitally, spending too much time on these platforms can be counterproductive to battling homesickness, as social media time is time not spent connecting face-to-face with peers or doing school work.
Celebrating Hard Work
Carol Dweck is a leading researcher who has spent years trying to understand motivation and how and why people succeed. Some of her work sets out to dispel the myth that talent is innate, and that therefore only talented people can succeed.
Instead, she argues for having a “growth mindset ”—believing that your abilities and skills can grow and improve through hard work and dedication. Thinking this way encourages resilience and productivity, she says, even in the face of adversity.
As a parent of a homesick college student, it may be helpful to expect your child to encounter some bumps in the road of university life.
And rather than dwelling on a perceived “failure,” such as a low grade in a class or a bout of homesickness, Dweck recommends talking about and modeling the growth mindset, helping your child see a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than a major life set back.
Encouraging Your Child to Get Help if They Need It
If your homesick college student seems to need the help of an expert, visiting their campus counseling center might be a first step.
Many colleges also offer mental health services and counseling on campus, often at little to no cost.
According to the American Psychological Association, the number of college students seeking counseling has increased in the last decade by about 30%. That’s another bit of information you might use to help normalize your child’s situation.
If your child is no longer on a family medical plan, it’s likely you’ve enrolled them in a college health insurance plan, which is often rolled into costs of tuition, room and board.
Developing a Plan to Pay for College
In addition to homesickness, paying for college can be an added layer of stress, for both parents and students. You likely discussed whether or not you’ll be able to assist them financially. It’s good to note that Scholarships and grants can be helpful sources of funding since they don’t need to be repaid.
If your child needs to take out student loans for additional funding, talk to them about the details. For most students, federal student loans and other sources of aid may be enough to fund their college education.
Some parents borrow loans to help their kids pay for college. The federal government offers PLUS loans to parents. If you’re looking for an alternative, consider SoFi, where eligible borrowers could potentially qualify for a lower interest rate.
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