Maybe you hear it in what they’re telling you when they call home. Maybe you hear it in what they’re not telling you. Maybe it’s clear because they’re calling you, again, this week. Maybe you know because they’re not calling you. On the one hand you’re worrying, on the other hand, it’s just homesickness, and everyone gets homesick, right? It’s something you just get over… right?
Getting started at college is an enormous adjustment for students. It’s typical to feel lonely, nervous, scared, and sad right alongside feeling thrilled, hopeful, free, and empowered. With all those feelings, on top of all the new information our brains are taking in, yeah—adjustment is stressful! When everything is new, it makes sense we long for the familiar.
And while the adjustment is taxing, the only way past it is through it. Many, many students feel homesick at some point in their adjustment to college. Your student is doing the heavy lifting here, but there are significant ways you can support them.
Listening is much more than hearing. It involves setting aside our own perspectives and agenda, to be alongside someone else in their experience. Most parents find a sense of meaning and purpose in providing for their children, so when our children rely on us, it feels good, it connects us to that sense of meaning. However, to really listen to what your student needs from you when they call home from college, you’ll need to set aside that feeling of personal satisfaction. (Read more on this in our empty-nesting post.)
FLC’s Counseling Center offers individual and group counseling among myriad other supports. Four 50-minute sessions are included in your student’s fees. Additionally, the Counseling Center’s site offers self-help information on homesickness and other common challenges.
WellPAC offers peer-to-peer support. Students who volunteer with WellPAC are trained and available to offer a welcoming ear and a safe place for fellow students to air concerns. This is often a great first-step for students seeking support.
While it’s important that you provide a safe and supportive space for your student, it’s also developmentally important that they step away from their parents and home to build their own sense of autonomy. Consider discussing boundaries around when and how much contact you have with each other—there’s no “right way” for this to look, but the goal would be to balance your student’s opportunities to try new things (and make mistakes!), with the support and nurturance they get from home.
Encourage your student to get connected in real time with other students at FLC and in Durango. In a time when social media and online gaming blur the ways we connect with others—and, indeed provide an engaging way to connect with people who are far away—today’s technology also means that we often have to make an intentional effort to connect with people in real time, in real life activities.
When we hit a rough spot, it can be helpful to zoom out and get a bigger perspective—to include the easier or more affirming times alongside the hard times. DO NOT NEGATE the hard times, though. Be sure to validate their feelings (“you’re right, this is hard, of course you feel lonely), but try to avoid validating any catastrophic ideas they’re building around those feelings (“College is a horrible place! No one here likes me!”). It hurts to watch someone you love hurting, and the best thing you can do is be with them. And then, after connecting, they’ll be more likely to take a balanced perspective.
Homesickness is hard, and it’s understandable, too. Most of us have had some kind of experience of longing for familiarity—for home, for our friends and family. And it can look wildly different from one person to another. As you continue to support your student through their transition to college, you are in a unique, challenging, and important position to support them in overcoming their homesickness and finding a second home at FLC.