For most children, the boarding experience is a happy one. It is an adventure like no other with friends on tap, a multitude of activities to try, and a wide support network – but what happens if they get homesick? We ask Alicia Drummond, our in-house Parenting and Mental Health Expert and Founder of Teen Tips and The Wellbeing Hub for her top tips for helping our children get through this tough time.
Whilst the separation from home builds independence, self-confidence, resilience and social skills, it is also true that most will feel homesick to a greater or lesser degree and it is important they know this is normal, and they won’t be alone. If your child is prepared for the separation, given permission to feel homesick, and equipped with some strategies to overcome it, they will adjust more quickly.
Firstly, try not to panic (which is easier said than done when our children are miserable). You will almost certainly start to doubt your decision to send them away and will probably want to rescue them but, at this stage what they really need is for us to support them in working through the challenge.
- Use empathy to soothe their feelings.
- Try to find out what they are struggling with.
- If possible, tell them about a time when you felt homesick but decided that you wanted to get over it so that you didn’t miss out on a new experience and tell them how you coped.
- Ask them what they think they could do to help themselves e.g. get busy, spend time with friends, talk to a trusted adult, chat to old friends.
- Call their housemaster/mistress/tutor to check they are aware of the problem and ask for their perspective and advice.
- If the homesickness persists beyond the first half term it is important to act. For a variety of reasons, some children will not be able to adapt, and whilst they are miserable, they will not thrive either socially or academically. Talk to the school, offer counselling, and explore options with your child. You know your child best, and if you think they can conquer the homesickness with support, they will gain a lot from learning to overcome it.
- No school can suit every child. There are circumstances when a child needs to come home, especially if there are extenuating family circumstances or emotional illness. If this is the case give them lots of praise for trying it out, don’t shame them for it not working out, and work with them to make sure they are as prepared as possible for the next move.
Some tips to help your child settle at boarding school:
- You being confident helps them feel confident and optimistic – you made the decision to send them boarding because you think it is right for them – don’t wobble
- Predictability and perspective will help them feel settled – some children will benefit from ticking off the days on a calendar which shows how long it is until they will see you again.
- Loadsharing is when we share stress across a close relationship. By staying in close contact through frequent texts, emails, letters and messages we help children feel our presence even when we are absent.
- Tell them how excited you are for them; how proud you are of them; that it is normal to feel a little homesick at the start, but it will soon pass. Tell them how much you are looking forward to hearing about all the new and exciting things they are doing, and how much you love them.
- When you speak or write, ask them what they are enjoying which helps them to focus on the positive, and don’t make home sound too exciting.
And a few things not to say:
“We are going to miss you so much; it’s going to be awful without you” – which might make your child feel guilty for leaving.
“If it doesn’t work you can leave” – too much reassurance gives them the message that you don’t think they are going to cope.
At some point our children must all leave home. Allowing them to become independent takes courage. Coping with homesickness isn’t easy for them, or for us, but with our loving support they will conquer it and learn valuable lessons about themselves as a result.
The wealth of resources available within The Wellbeing Hub help parents support their children through adolescence and gives them the skills and knowledge to meet their social and emotional needs. It’s a live and interactive web-app which parents can subscribe to individually here or they can refer us to their child’s school so the whole school community can benefit. Contact us for more information.