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The transition from high school to college can be tough. The word transition is deceiving, however. It implies that there is an easing into a new situation. For a college student, the change is abrupt and instant; just about everything is different or new. Some are away from home for the first time, many have never shared a room with a sibling, let alone a stranger, the schoolwork is harder and there’s more of it, there’s lots of new people to figure out and relationships to form, and probably for the first time, they are completely responsible for themselves. The most well-adjusted kids are going to face bumps along the way so don’t let that first phone call of distress (or the third, fourth, fifth…) set you into a tailspin. Having your kids reach out to you in their moment of emotional need is a parenting win but you want to handle these conversations carefully. Next, are five things not to do in conversations with your homesick college student.
While your heart may be breaking, if you react over emotionally you will just add to the stress of the situation. Validate their feelings, let them know you care, but don’t add to the heat of an already heated situation or the sadness of an already homesick child. Your anger at her roommate or professor is not going to help. Wait until after hanging up the phone to let your emotions flow. One important thing I have learned since my daughter left for college is that I tended to be upset about a situation she shared with me long after she has had moved on, often without remembering to let me know. I recall one incident maybe the second week of her freshman year where she was upset with her roommate. I was a mess all day. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t concentrate, could barely function, and I was unable to think about anything else. I tried multiple times during the day to call/text and check on her but she wasn’t responding. When I finally did get hold of her, I learned the reason she wasn’t answering me all day – she was out with friends (including her roommate) and then at a dorm event! She had a great day and I grew and ulcer.
2. Don’t talk, listen
Let your child share their feelings without interruption. Sometimes just being allowed to put their emotions into words is enough to improve their situation. There aren’t many people around them that they will feel safe sharing their feelings with especially when it comes to feelings of homesickness. Don’t interject your own feelings into their situations. Don’t judge their feelings or make them believe that what they’re experiencing is wrong. Statements like, “I think you’re taking this too personally,” or “You’re blowing this out of proportion” aren’t helpful. Their perception is their reality. Conversely, don’t make something from nothing or bigger than it already is with statements like, “I would be so angry!” or “I can’t believe she did that to you!”
3. Do not focus on the problem
Co-rumination is defined as the tendency to excessively discuss and revisit problems, speculate on problems, and focus on negative feelings (Rose, 2002).
Why is co-rumination a problem? Co-rumination becomes damaging because the focus becomes the problem and not the solution. Are you guilty of wanting to know the nitty gritty details of an issue your student is having, discussing it at length, wanting to know all the players involved, and revisiting/asking about the issue in follow-up phone calls? Though a sharing of these negative personal emotions may make you feel closer to your child you are continuing to give life to and focus on the negative. This way of relating to your college student can even cause further problems.
In 2008, Christine Calmes and John Roberts, professors at the State University of New York in Buffalo, found that undergraduates who co-ruminated with a parent were more likely to say they suffered from anxiety. (Time.com, 2015)
You want to help your child break out of a cycle of negativity onto a positive resolution. Don’t draw them back into the cycle by dwelling on previous problems in further conversations. Discuss the facts, allow her to express her feelings about the situation, and then help her move onto possible solutions. If she doesn’t bring the topic up again, you shouldn’t either.
4. Do not include your child in your problems
You’re so sad walking around your empty house. You can barely look into your child’s room without breaking down. You’ve been crying since they left. You’re having trouble figuring out your new role in life. You worry that you don’t know how to connect with your spouse anymore. These are all valid emotions and you are allowed to feel them, BUT you should not discuss these things with your child. Discussing your own problems can cause feelings of guilt and sadness in your student and add to your child’s stress. Knowing that you’re sad can even prevent your child from allowing themselves to feel happiness. Your child should not be your confidant when it comes to these issues.
5. Do not encourage your child to come home
Weekends away from school are missed opportunities to make friends, participate in social activities, and form new relationships. Weekends are social times at school. Visits home too early or too often will slow your child’s acclimation to their new home. It is important for them to settle into a new routine. Routines bring feelings of safety and comfort. Coming home too early or too often breaks them from their routine and can even prevent them from establishing one.
So, what can you do?
- Talk positively about their new experiences.
- Commend them for stepping out of their comfort zone and for new accomplishments – even things like figuring out the bus system.
- Let them know you believe they can handle any new situation.
- Encourage involvement in clubs, organizations, intramural sports, etc.
- Ask questions that lead to positive answers like, What’s the best thing you’ve eaten in the dining hall, which professor is your favorite, which class do you like the best, etc.
- Send care packages (and encourage close relatives to do the same – or even just send a letter). [Read: The Best Gifts To Send Your Homesick Student]
- Reassure them that their feelings are normal and their friends are experiencing the same things.