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Homesickness: Have Your Kids Caught the Illness?

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Breathe deep. Smell it?

Homesickness, it’s in the air. If you’re a parent of a first-year college student, your kid might have caught it. Before helping your kid get through the homesickness, I want to congratulate you on winning. Yes, you won. Do a dance. Celebrate. Your kid misses your cooking, hugs, kisses, conversation, and love. In fact, your child is sick without it. Home is worth getting sick over. Congrats.

Once the celebration ends, the fact that you’re paying $25K for your kid to be miserable will hit you. Then you’ll cry. But don’t be too sad. Appreciate that homesickness is normal. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, more than 60 percent of students feel homesickness. Instead of heightening your kid’s anxiety or telling them to come home (home is like giving crack to a junkie), allow your kid to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Let them be sad and give them permission to miss home. Encourage your homesick kid to ask the following three questions:

1. How long did you think it would take to find your place on campus?

Everyone wants it all NOW! Google takes less than a second to get results. Most students have grown up with the same friends, in the same community, in the same school. Change takes time. Remind them to be patient. It doesn’t take a few months. It can take a good year or two to find their way. They don’t long for home as much as they long for the feeling of being safe and comfortable. Feeling comfortable takes time, work, and patience.

2. Where are your three places on campus where you can find connections?

We all need our places. Without places, we feel out of place. Then we want to come home.

Help your son or daughter find at least one or two places where they can make connections. Places can be locations where groups and organizations meet, academic resource centers, a counselor’s office, church, temple, gym, work, or any place where they can find a common bond. Spiritual organizations, volunteer groups, and campus jobs can be a great place to find connections. And if they say they’ve tried, tell them to keep trying. It takes time to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

3. Who are the people who can help you make your new home more comfortable?

Without people in our corner to lean on, we can feel lonely, lost, and homesick. There are three types of people your kid can find in his or her corner. There are people you pay to help, people who volunteer to help, and people who can be asked to help. People who are paid to help include residence life staff members, counselors, tutors, teaching assistants, therapists, mentors, and professors. People who volunteer to help could include peer mentors, spiritual leaders, and leaders on campus, and people like me. As for people who can be asked for help, your kid can ask for advice from anyone who has been there and done it, such as an upperclassman.

If you’re concerned for your child’s health and safety, reach out to the people on campus who can offer guidance. Don’t ask them to fix your kid’s problems. Ask for help finding the people and places you can suggest your child lean on for help, support, and guidance. If your gut tells you there’s something terribly wrong, take a day trip or visit campus and take your kid to dinner (if possible).

One last suggestion: kids LOVE care packages. Send care without having them come home (check out Whatever you do, appreciate that this is all normal and natural. It’s healthy to feel uncomfortable and homesick. Once your kid learns how to transition to life in college, future transitions in life will be far more manageable. Eventually, they will become a lot less painful for your child—and for you.

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Tagged in: College Life Homesick

Harlan Cohen is the author of The Naked Roommate series of books and is one of the most widely read and respected syndicated advice columnists for people in their teens and twenties. His column, "Help Me, Harlan!," is distributed by King Features Syndicate. Harlan regularly tours high school and college campuses giving presentations to students, professionals, and parents. He lives in Chicago, Illinois. Follow Harlan on Twitter @HarlanCohen.

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