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Beating the Homesick Blues
Homesickness is a normal part of growing up, but what exactly is homesickness? It's a feeling you get when you're away from home, separated from familiar objects and family members. If you have ever felt homesick, you're not alone. Homesickness is a natural part of development and is felt by nearly everyone at some point in their lives.
Homesickness may cause sadness, which can lead to distress, impairment,or anxiety. For some children, it may also be manifested in behavior. They may be withdrawn and have trouble enjoying activities they used to like. In rare situations, children may even exhibit physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches.
Thoughts of home and attachment objects, like a pet, home cooking, even television, make it hard for children to enjoy themselves when they're away from home. There isn't a set formula. Different children miss different things and react in different ways.
Younger children run the highest risk of suffering from severe symptoms of homesickness simply because they haven't developed coping skills for being away from home. That doesn't mean, though, that teenagers or college students won't experience homesickness.
Contrary to popular belief, homesickness doesn't always disappear after the first few days of being away. There are times when children just don't adjust to being away from home. When this happens, you need to be ready.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your child prepare for being away from home, which can alleviate anxiety. Knowing what lies ahead can help your child cope better when feelings of homesickness creep in. Try these tips for a successful transition:
- Practice makes perfect—Start with small chunks of time away from home, such as an afternoon at a friend's house. Shorter trips away help build confidence and ease fears your child may have.
- Involve your child in plans about being away—Being part of the decisions gives children some control over the situation and makes homesickness less likely.
- Talk with your child—Let your child know what to expect and let them express concerns. You may be able to talk through many situations that your child will encounter and how they might be dealt with.
- Pack some familiar items—Have your child bring some favorite items, such as a pillow or a favorite pair of pajamas.
- Keep busy—Activities can help create distraction, especially if they're fun.
- Keep communication lines open—Set a time to make contact, but be careful about how much time is spent on a phone call or text messaging. It's important to allow separation so your child can adjust to new surroundings.
- Plan ahead—If an extended summer camp stay is coming up, talk with a camp counselor about plans for handling children who are homesick. Keep in mind that the goal is to have your child stay at camp.
- Buddy up—Send your child off to summer camp with a best friend, sibling, or cousin.
When all else fails, have a back-up plan. There are instances where a few days of distress, lack of appetite, or extreme anxiety require attention. Think about how you will handle this situation when it comes up.
A Happy Ending
Except for the small percentage of children who exhibit severe signs of homesickness, most will overcome it and enjoy themselves. They may even look forward to their next away from home experience.
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychological Association
AAP helps young camper stay safe and healthy. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Helps-Young-Campers-Stay-Safe-and-Healthy.aspx. Updated March 28, 2011. Accessed November 4, 2015.
Homesickness. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/home%5Ffamily/homesickness.html. Updated March 2015. Accessed November 4, 2015.
Homesickness—expert advice for parents. American Camp Association website. Available at: http://www.campparents.org/homesickness. Accessed November 4, 2015.
Summer camp blues: helping children cope with their first sleep-away camp experience. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/camp.aspx. Accessed November 4, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 09/2015
- Update Date: 11/13/2013