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Homesick to Happy

Every parent dreads the teary phone call that begins, “Mom, I want to come home.” Of course our immediate reaction is to swoop in and save them, but this won’t help long term. The truth is, even if they come home, it won’t be the same because others are also in a new phase of life.

It’s normal for the excitement of college to wear off at this point in the semester as the academic grind takes shape. Your student’s lack of privacy may impact their ability to recharge and relax like they did at home, and this can take a toll on their mind and body. Learning to function and take care of themselves without their support system nearby is a struggle, but there are a few things parents can encourage their student to do before they pack them up:

Validate Their Feelings:

A recent study by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA found that 70% of first year students feel occasional or frequent homesickness. Your child’s whole world just changed - friends, support system, teachers, courses, housing, activities, familiarity with their environment, not to mention all the changes due to covid - all of this adds up and can feel overwhelming. They have very little of those comforts to cling to right now. Listen to your student, let them know you hear them, and remind them they are in the middle of all this change. It will take time to feel comfortable at college. Ask them to embrace the new rather than focus on how it used to be. After all, wasn't this change of scenery part of the appeal going to college?

Stay In Touch with Family & Friends:

Technology has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Encourage your student to call and text family and friends rather than just engaging on social media as this allows for a more genuine connection. If your student is begging to come home, flip the script and come to them! Come let them show you around and see the campus. Find some new places together and make some good memories in Oxford. Home football weekends are obviously lots of fun, but away weekends are a great time to enjoy the slower pace and reconnect with your student. If you can’t schedule a visit, explain that by coming home every weekend they are missing key opportunities to connect and build friendships at school. These downtimes are when students roam the halls to visit and explore things outside of their normal weekday route.

Encourage Your Student to Get Involved:

The number one biggest predictor of student retention is involvement on campus. It doesn't matter if it is a social group, academic group, sports club, religious group, interest club, or a leadership role. As long as they have found somewhere to belong they are more likely to feel connected at school. Ole miss has hundreds of groups on campus with opportunities for students to find a sense of community. Many campus groups use the FORUM platform to post upcoming events.

Help Them Establish a Routine:

Sometimes it seems the only consistent aspect of the college years is inconsistency. It may be that your student is missing the routine that home allows. Focusing energy toward things that your student can control will be helpful. Encourage them to create a routine similar to what worked for them at home:

  • Eating regular meals rather than living off snacks and caffeine will contribute to keeping emotions at a manageable level.

  • Getting some movement in, especially if your student was used to regular athletic practices, contributes to relieving stress and getting those endorphins pumping. I suggest checking out intramural sports and the campus rec trails - being in nature rather than a dorm room is always a plus! This is a great distraction to get them out and about if they have been withdrawn.

  • Sleep routines are likely all over the place, and we all know how this can negatively impact us. Once regular meals and movements are established it will be easier to put a sleep routine in place. Try to schedule the same sleep/wake time, limit screen time before bed (choose a book or podcast), reduce caffeine (and alcohol) intake, and skip long naps.

  • Structure the day similar to a work day by choosing primarily class/homework/study during 8:00 - 5:00, allowing for activities and socialization in the evenings.

Send care packages:

Let your student know you are thinking of them. Send encouraging notes or care packages filled with their favorite snacks, scents, or seasonal goodies. Remember the point is to make them smile not to miss home more, so keep messages upbeat and cheerful! Several companies in town will deliver happies right to your student.

Being homesick can lead to feeling isolated, anxious, and depressed. Encourage your student to reach out when they feel like withdrawing. Building a support system in Oxford and connecting with local resources can contribute to a sense of security. Whether that means talking with a therapist, peers, a leader of a group organization, a family friend, or an instructor, having people to reach out to when they are struggling will be key to helping them push through these uncomfortable feelings. It is important for students to share that they are feeling homesick with their support group so others know to be more attentive. Homesick feelings can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Find comfort in knowing these feelings are temporary as is this transition stage of life. Working to build a sense of community can ease the discomfort.


Sarah Jay Gay is a counselor at Thrive Counseling of Oxford. Connect with her: | FB: Sarah Jay Gray M.Ed Counselor | IG: @Sarahjaygray_counselor

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