Student looking seriousMany students get the wobbles and feel homesick at some stage, as it’s a huge change from school:

  • a big fish in a small sea becomes the opposite
  • too much school structure changes to very little structure
  • they have to take responsibility – no one will tell them off for not attending lectures, not doing their washing
  • acknowledging homesickness is difficult as they want to be independent
  • there is big pressure to enjoy themselves and be seen to do so
  • moods will cover a wide spectrum and can be alcohol fuelled
  • and being apart from a girl/boyfriend makes it all even worse

A parent’s role is really hard.
Its terribly upsetting to have your daughter crying down the phone when you can’t put an arm round her and give her a hug, and to try to get to the core of a son’s unhappiness can be even more difficult.

Coming to terms with your own feelings of emptiness are also not helped by having a weeping or terribly quiet teenager on the phone. It can be really unexpected, especially if they have been traveling independently in the summer, and you expect them to be used to being away from home. They were so enthusiastic going off to university, and it is terribly upsetting to suddenly get daily calls from them saying how unhappy they are.

Initial homesickness isn’t unusual. And the fact that Freshers “week” can last nearly two weeks doesn’t help either, as they will have few if any lectures which means there is little chance to meet people on the course, so a new student can be a bit stuck for the first few days with a limited number of hall friends.

Over a third of the students surveyed took a good month to settle in but for some homesickness really takes hold and it can take well into the year to feel settled and happy.

Here are some tips to help deal with homesickness:

  • try to visit them, rather than let them come home, certainly initially
  • don’t show how worried you are, but do tell them its quite normal to feel like this, and reassure them that they can talk to you anytime
  • if they call a lot and you are going to be out let them know in advance
  • if you sense something is wrong find an excuse to ring the next day with some piece of cheerful news or a query about do they want you to send something you think they have forgotten.
  • if they come home, offer to take them back – it saves tearful station goodbyes and you can settle them in, even if you have to stay overnight
  • getting several calls a day may make you feel you are running out of advice because there is only so much you can say, so morale boosting can be exhausting. You could get “caller display” on your phone so you dont answer it every time – maybe getting another member of the family to chat to them on the pretext that you are out. The fact that they have talked to someone will have cheered them up and not talking to Mum may avert the tears
  • closing the conversation is hard, so get them to promise to do something when they put the phone down, or go and knock on a friend’s door for a chat. Then promise a follow up call
  • suggest joining a team sport, even if it’s the frisbee throwers club, as it will broaden their friendship group
  • encourage them to talk to other students – lots of students will feel the same
  • don’t let them come home every weekend – this may sound harsh but it is not easy to make friends if they are missing out on key times for socialising. Provided they seem to be making friends, encourage them to stick it out for one weekend at a time, and talk through with them an action plan to join in an event, and plan something with a couple of people on their course during the day too – those other students will be just as relieved to have something to do
  • blogging to give voice to their feelings will make them realize they are not alone
  • a student counselor will be available, and better to go sooner than get really stressed

And finally draw comfort that, as you put down the phone feeling worried and stressed out yourself, you may find later that having off loaded their unhappiness onto you they felt much better, met up with friends and had an ok evening whilst you anguished over it for hours. So maybe a call later on will set your mind at rest and make them feel better by being able to sound more positive to you.

A helpful site on all kind of topics for students is Push.