Help for Homesickness

A newly published Pediatrics report urges parents and children’s doctors to change their thinking about children’s homesickness — to see it as a nearly universal but highly preventable and treatable phenomenon.

The report gives specific guidance to help anticipate and lessen the distress that homesickness can cause among kids and teens at summer camps, hospitals, boarding schools and colleges.

Tips include:

• Involve children in the decision to spend time away from home, so that children have a sense of control.

• Tell children that homesickness is normal, but that they can use strategies like writing letters home, sharing their feelings with other people, and thinking about all the good things that camp or school is giving them, to help ease their worry.

• Arrange for a practice time away from home, such as a two- or three-day stay with relatives.

If a child has reached high school without having gone to summer camp or more than a night away from home, this is especially important to prepare them for college or independent life.

• Before the separation, don’t make comments that express anxiety or ambivalence about the child going away.

Even “I hope you’ll be okay” or “what will I do without you” can leave a child worried that something bad might happen to them or their parents, and make them preoccupied with thoughts of home.

• Use a calendar to show exactly the amount of time a child will be away, if that’s known.

Predictability and perspective on the length of separation is important whenever possible.

• Warn children against keeping feelings of homesickness to themselves, doing something “bad” in order to get sent home or trying to escape.

• Know whether your child is really ready for a separation. If you’re not sure, ask your child’s doctor — but not while the child can hear the conversation.

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