It’s not just college freshmen who long for the comfort of their parents and the familiarity of their childhood homes; many young children experience homesickness as well. In public school, boarding school, summer programs, and sleep-away camps, young students can experience the stress, nervousness, and discomfort of homesickness or separation anxiety even if they’re only gone for a short period of time.
By learning the signs of homesickness and techniques to address this issue, teachers and parents can help students work through this problem and have a better, happier school experience.
What is Homesickness?
Homesickness is most characterized by the significant preoccupation of thoughts about “home” and the associated ideas, such as parents and family. Some children may feel intense sadness and longing while others may have physical pains such as nausea.
As The New York Times explained, homesickness is more likely to occur in children who have trouble with change, less experience being away from parents at a young age, and have parents who have voiced/shown anxiety over the child going away. When parents feel guilt or nervous leaving, often the child can sense it.
Homesickness is most common when children are away from their families and homes overnight or for a longer period of time, such as at sleepaway camps and boarding schools. In addition to young children, older teens entering college for the first time can also experience homesickness.
Homesickness is more prevalent after vacations, breaks, and missed days for illnesses, or at the beginning of the school year, when children are leaving home for a longer period of time than they’ve recently been used to.
How to Recognize Homesickness
Teachers and organizers can look for common signs of homesickness to assist students in getting the help they need. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explained that homesickness can manifest itself physically as nausea, headache, or sore throat in the morning as well as behaviorally with excessive clinginess, tantrums, and fear.
Homesick or separation-anxious students often also “display excessive worry and fear about parents or about harm to themselves” and may have fears of monsters, nightmares, or the dark. Difficulty sleeping and shyness may also be signs. By analyzing these warning signs along with which students are most at risk and when they are most likely to feel homesick, teachers can get a good idea of which students need help.
What Can Teachers Do?
When a student is crying, sick, scared, or distant, a teacher or counselor will want to take action and help.
Education advice website TeachWithMe recommends that a teacher’s first step is to notify parents when they notice homesickness in order to work with them toward a solution.
However, teachers can also take steps on their own. They can try to distract a student from their homesickness through activities, lessons, and games. Teachers may want to keep comforting items such as stuffed animals nearby for young students to soothe themselves. Sometimes students respond to some special treatment while others simply need time.
Anxiety.org noted that there are apps that may help some students become more comfortable in the classroom. From simple distraction to better understanding of one’s own emotions, these apps may be a teacher’s best friend.
Getting Through Transition Together
The best solution for student homesickness is for parents and teachers to work together on the problem at home and in the classroom.
At home, parents can take steps to educate children about what school might be like and what activities they’ll likely undertake at school, Parents magazine noted. This will help develop familiarity. Additionally, when parents leave children, they should be calm, happy, and confident and leave quickly to avoid imparting anxiety on the student. Parents can also create a comfortable morning ritual and give students a comfort item from home.
Parents and teacher can work together to allow students to see the classroom and meet the instructor prior to the first day of school. Greater familiarity can help prevent homesickness or reduce the symptoms. Parents may want to discuss the classroom’s dropoff procedure.
Older children may appreciate talking through the potential anxiety and creating an actionable plan if they get homesick. Limited and appropriate contact may also be helpful if healthy.
One way to deal with homesickness may be to change the perception of what the feeling is. School psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, Christopher Thurber, told the Times that people don’t stop missing people who they love. If students can adjust the way they think about homesickness to understand it as a feeling of affection versus pain, it may help change the feelings around homesickness as well.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry noted that if the fear of school or severe homesickness persists for a long time or last late into adolescence, it may be time to talk with a mental health professional about other solutions.
Even parents can get homesick when children start leaving for long periods of time. Family Education advised that parents take some of the same steps that children do to feel better. Distracting oneself with errands or recreation can help reduce the symptoms of missing a child.
Regardless of parental separation anxiety, moms and dads should be sure to avoid making students feel guilty. Instead, give him or her a note or comfort item to help with the child’s homesickness as well as your feelings.