Advice for Parents about Homesickness

Monday, August 31, 2020

A Note from Susan Rahauser, M.S., NCC, LPC, Director of Student Counseling Services

Uhh, what just happened to our sense of normalcy and sending our children off to school? A decision to send a child to boarding school is what some professionals call “planned separation.” Now the level of planning involved with school safety and decision-making has gone beyond our wildest imagination. For some children, separating from loved ones to attend boarding school is a new adventure that stimulates excitement. For others, just thinking about parting from home may create anxiety and sadness, especially right now after many months of togetherness. Even students who are excited to come to Mercersburg Academy very soon may experience their own level of increased homesickness. Those that will be connected to Mercersburg virtually might feel sadness about missing friends and teachers or experience other emotions about which we will want to be on the lookout.

Lynn Lyons, an anxiety expert, likes to help children with separation difficulties by focusing on what she calls, “the moment of goodbye.” This framework eases tensions since a difficult moment is more easily endurable than a potentially overwhelming imagining of being away from home for a long period of time. Lyons says, once a moment of goodbye has occurred, usually the separation period beyond that will work itself out naturally. 

Still, it is not uncommon for parents to receive a phone call about homesickness: “I miss you. I want to come home.” This fall, be aware students may have many other questions and comments regarding health and well being, including, “How is everyone in our family? What’s happening at home? I think my friend is sick, or what if I get someone else sick? It’s hard to wear a mask all the time. I’m lonely.”  

All of us at Mercersburg Academy will be looking out for your child’s health and sense of safety and belonging; however, consider these tips to promote a smooth adjustment this fall. 

  1. Come together as a family and talk about what it will be like to be apart (or together). Ask your child how they will help themselves to feel at home while away at school. 
  2. Make a plan for how you will communicate with your child and when. Will it be by phone, FaceTime, Zoom, etc.? Recognize you may be apart for a longer stretch since family weekend will be different.
  3. Keep communication open about COVID-19 and what’s happening with family members at home. Students don’t like to be out of the loop about people they love, and they may worry at times.
  4. Pack things to bring to Mercersburg that are nice comforts and reminders of home (for example: photos, their own pillow, a small pebble or stone for our Rock Pile 2020 on campus).
  5. Consider practicing wearing masks for longer periods of time, frequently washing hands, and physical distancing (six feet apart) before coming to school. 
  6. Be predictable and reliable (one of the things that has characterized the past six months is the feeling of the unknown and uncertainty).  
  7. Ask about what kind of care packages your child may wish to receive.
  8. Allow your child to spend some time away from home, orchestrating their own schedule and flexing their independence muscles.
  9. Once school starts, ask your child how they are doing, and don’t settle for a perfunctory answer. 
  10. Let your child’s adviser know, sooner rather than later, if you have concerns about homesickness or loneliness.

As always, the counseling department will continue to share resources through the Wellness Corner of Parent News, our parent newsletter. In the meantime, here is a link to a helpful resource by Dr. Lisa Damour, a psychologist.