Parenting Solutions: Homesick (page 2)
Is afraid to leave home, misses the comforts of home and always wants to come back
The Change to Parent For
Your child learns skills and techniques that will help him feel more secure when he's away from home, reduce his chances of being homesick, and enable him to enjoy the experience of being away from house and family.
Question: "My child just went away to camp for the first time, and now he's calling me and asking to come home. Is this normal, and is there some way of knowing how bad he really feels?"
Answer: Up to 95 percent of kids who go to sleep-away camp miss something about home, but the good news is that the majority of those pangs begin to ease over the next two or three days.21 The best way to gauge how well your child is doing is to ask a simple question: "How homesick have you been feeling?"22 Most parents assume that asking will worsen the symptoms, when on the contrary researchers find it actually puts you in a better position to hear where your child is coming from and to check in on his emotional state. Then you can decide if he can make it a bit longer or does need to be rescued.
Sleepovers. Slumber parties. Weekend or summer camp. Boarding school. Hospitalization. Moving. There are a number of reasons kids go away from home. Going away may seem like a great experience, but for many kids the idea of spending time away from you, where you live, and everything that's familiar is scary—especially for the first few times. And then there are doubts in our own minds as well: Should I let him go? Is he old enough? Will he make it through the night? Why doesn't he want to go—should I insist? If your kid is older, there's a whole different set of worries: Will he be supervised? Will he get any sleep? Will there be any drugs or alcohol? Are he and his buddy really going to stay in the house all night? Ah, the joys of parenting! But then there's another worry that can be even more upsetting—homesickness!
Research Finds That Homesickness Is Preventable
New research conducted by clinical psychologists from one of the nation's leading boarding schools, Phillips Exeter Academy, and a University of Michigan physician found concluding evidence that homesickness can be greatly minimized and even prevented.23 The key is to talk to your child ahead of any separation to let him know homesickness is normal. Although almost 90 percent of children attending summer camp feel some level of homesickness, if parents coach and educate their children about ways to cope, the intensity of first-camp homesickness can be reduced by almost 50 percent. (See Step 3, p. 270.)
Although the longing for the comforts of home is normal for any age, those pangs can range from mild to almost debilitating. But now groundbreaking research finds that parents really can make a difference in minimizing—even preventing—homesickness and help their kids enjoy those away-from-home experiences far more. This entry shows you how to parent for change based on proven research that will help your preschooler, school ager, tween, or even teen prepare to venture off on his own.
Pay Attention to This!
When to Know Your Child Is Too Homesick
Research finds that about 90 percent of children attending summer camp feel some level of homesickness. Of those cases, 20 percent are severe, and about 7 percent—if untreated—will worsen over time and could lead to depression.24 If you are concerned that your child sounds overly distressed or angry and belligerent, or if he is not eating or sleeping due to anxiety or depression, it is time to go home. Do talk to the counselor and get his perspective, but in the end rely on your own instinct. Nobody knows your child better than you do.
Signs and Symptoms
Almost everyone—young and old—experiences homesickness to some degree, and there seems to be no difference among boys and girls. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Here are some of the most common signs of homesickness:
- Calls, writes, or e-mails far more than usual; looks for reasons to connect
- Stops participating in activities, withdraws
- Experiences physical ailments, such as headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, sleeplessness, anxiety
- Exhibits depression-like symptoms, such as excessive crying, marked sadness, lethargy, fatigue
- Acts out with anger or belligerence
- Can't enjoy the experience or time with his friends because he longs to be back home
Although it's hard to predict just how a child will respond to being away from home, these factors put a child at greater risk for homesickness:
- Is younger, more immature, or anxious
- Has little experience being away from home
- Has low expectations for the experience; doesn't want to go to the sleepover or camp
- Feels forced to go to the sleepover, boarding school, or camp
- Is unsure whether adults will help him if he needs help
- Has had limited practice handling negative emotions or lacks coping skills
- Has parents who express a lot of anxiety or concern about his going away
Step 1. Early Intervention
- Be sure your kid is ready. There is no magic age when your child is emotionally ready to be away from home—even if he begs to spend a few hours or the night away, he may not be ready. Here are some basic questions to ask so as to gauge whether he is ready to venture forth without you:
- Create solutions for any concerns. Research shows that if children have some control in preparing for the event, they feel more comfortable about going away.25 So identify any questions or concerns your child may have and then encourage him to brainstorm a solution (with your help). Here are a few common problems and simple kid-generated solutions:
- Show him where he's going. For a sleepover, ideally the child should first have gone to the house on a playdate so he can "get the lay of the land" and feels comfortable with the parents. To prepare for a camp experience, give your child an online tour of the camp, show him the brochures, and talk up the cool features and things he'll get to do.
- Keep any concerns to yourself. Beware of sending any negative vibes to your child. If he hears you expressing some concern about whether this will work out, he will lose confidence. And don't ever bribe your child to stay. It only sends the wrong message.
- Choose the camp or activity based on your child's strengths and temperament. Forget what the neighbor's kid is going. Don't base your decisions on that glossy brochure that came through the mail. The best way to choose a camp is to match it to your child. Solicit his input. What are his interests? Can he spend that much time away from home? Does he need structure? What do you want him to gain from his camp experience? When in doubt, ask your child's teacher for her opinion. A teacher is well equipped to assess the fit between your child and the camp's program. Remember, the bottom line is that you want your child's camp experience to be fun and positive.
- Meet the parents or camp leader. No matter how old your child is, do meet the parents or camp counselor face-to-face. You want to be sure that parents will be supervising the whole night; be clear that if there are any problems you want to be called, and make sure they have your phone number handy.
- Don't forgo medications. If your child is on any medication—whether it be for asthma, hay fever, bedwetting, or ADHD—don't omit the dosage. Time away is not the time to alter his medication. Talk to the camp nurse or the parent; if your child doesn't want the other kids to know, then find a way to make a quick stop at the house to deliver the dosage.
- Do a practice run. Try a rehearsal away from home, such as an overnight a few times at a good friend's or a relative's. If you are sending your child to camp for an extended time, then the practice run should be at least two or three days with no telephone calls but only the opportunity to write a letter or e-mail home (just don't be instant messaging your kid back).
Is your child sleeping in his own bed through the night, or is he climbing in with you at two o'clock in the morning?
Does he have any problems separating from you when he goes to day care, the babysitter's, or school?
Does your child get along with this kid well enough to spend a whole night together?
Does he feel comfortable with the child's parents?
Does he get along well enough with the other kids or feel secure enough with the parent to make it through what would be considered a twelve-hour play-date?
Is this something he wants to do (or only what you hope he will do)? Just ask yourself that key question one more time and search for the honest answer.
Problem: Afraid of the dark. Solution: Pack a flashlight in his backpack.
Problem: Won't like the food. Solution: Pack food you know he likes.
Problem: Afraid of wetting the bed. Solution: Bring a sleeping bag with a rubber sheet tucked inside just in case he has an accident.
Problem: Worried he can't reach you. Solution: Lend him a cell phone with your number plugged in on speed dial (or a calling card for camp for reassurance that he can call you anytime if really needed).
A few packed items can make even the most anxious kid more comfortable. Think of what might make your child feel safer.
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