Homesickness is a normal part of growing up, but what exactly is homesickness? It's a feeling you get when you're away from home, separated from familiar objects and family members. If you have ever felt homesick, you're not alone. Homesickness is a natural part of development and is felt by nearly everyone at some point in their lives.
Homesickness may cause sadness, which can lead to distress, impairment,or anxiety. For some children, it may also be manifested in behavior. They may be withdrawn and have trouble enjoying activities they used to like. In rare situations, children may even exhibit physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches.
Thoughts of home and attachment objects, like a pet, home cooking, even television, make it hard for children to enjoy themselves when they're away from home. There isn't a set formula. Different children miss different things and react in different ways.
Younger children run the highest risk of suffering from severe symptoms of homesickness simply because they haven't developed coping skills for being away from home. That doesn't mean, though, that teenagers or college students won't experience homesickness.
Contrary to popular belief, homesickness doesn't always disappear after the first few days of being away. There are times when children just don't adjust to being away from home. When this happens, you need to be ready.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your child prepare for being away from home, which can alleviate anxiety. Knowing what lies ahead can help your child better cope when feelings of homesickness creep in. Try these tips for a successful transition:
When all else fails, have a back-up plan. There are instances where a few days of distress, lack of appetite, or extreme anxiety require attention. Think about how you will handle this situation when it comes up.
Except for the small percentage of children who exhibit severe signs of homesickness, most will overcome it and enjoy themselves. They may even look forward to their next away from home experience.
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychological Association
AAP helps young camper stay safe and healthy. American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/news/Pages/AAP-Helps-Young-Campers-Stay-Safe-and-Healthy.aspx. Updated March 28, 2011. Accessed November 13, 2013.
Homesickness. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/home_family/homesickness.html. Updated April 2012. Accessed November 13, 2013.
Homesickness—expert advice for parents. American Camp Association website. Available at: http://www.campparents.org/homesickness. Accessed November 13, 2013.
Summer camp blues: helping children cope with their first sleep-away camp experience. American Psychological Association website. Available at: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/camp.aspx. Accessed November 13, 2013.
Last reviewed November 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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