Practical Dad

Homesickness and the Away Child

When your child first goes away for any period of time - overnight, a weekend or a week - you can expect the I'm homesick, I really miss you call.  It's wonderful if you don't, but it's also okay if you do.  The fact that your kid is homesick and misses her environment and family is entirely natural.

But how can you handle it if you do receive such a call?  Here are some things to bear in mind.

  • Keep tabs on your patience and level of annoyance.  Even if it's a simple overnight at a friend's house, the feelings of fear and anxiety can be disproportionate and letting your impatience get the better of you can be damaging.
  • To what extent is your child homesick?  Ask about how she's feeling physically; homesickness can cover a range of responses from crying jags to withdrawal to legitimate physical symptoms such as headache and nausea.  If you can't get a solid answer then ask to speak with her counselor or adult chaperone for answers.
  • How long has the homesickness persisted?  Is this the first night away or have you finally been called because this has gone on persistently and isn't abating?  While you want your child to work through it - and most do - there is a point of diminishing return and you do have to consider whether greater harm is being done by her staying there.
  • Some kids, especially if they're older, can be embarrassed by their reaction.  Reassure them that it's natural and that it will pass.  When my middle child called while homesick, I shared stories about how I'd been in similar straits and what the end results were.
  • Let her talk.  Kids deal in feelings and emotions and the reasoning side typically doesn't come until later.  Ask what she's done and then see what comes out, and you'll probably hear something positive that can encourage her to see that the time away isn't a complete disaster.
  • If the child is persistent in wanting to come home, speak with her and then ask to speak with her counselor or adult leader.  There are options available, such as pairing the child with another counselor; in this case, the counselor might make progress by enlisting her help with duties and even leading some simple activities.  Make sure that the counselor knows to contact you separately to update you on the situation and whether it really is in the best interests to terminate the stay.
  • Let both the child and counselor and child know that it's alright to contact you if necessary, but don't volunteer to call the child regularly.  Let the staff or other chaperones do their job.
  • If the situation continues and you do have to take your child home, keep rein on yourself and don't berate or embarrass her.  She'll be embarrassed enough and your response will only make a volatile situation worse.  Perhaps take the tack that if it didn't work out this time, there are other times in the future.  If it's a persistent situation, then you might want to consider speaking with a counselor about what can be done to help her adjust.

Most kids suffer homesickness to some extent - I certainly did - and will pull through.  Just be sure to thank those adults or counselors who helped since they earned their money.

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