How to help a homesick kid
Tears, fears, nerves and nightmares.
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Everyone experiences some form of homesickness at some point in their life. When I was about 7 I was allowed to go to my first ‘sleep over’ at my best friend’s house.

Read more: What's your sleepover policy?

I couldn’t wait. The novelty of sleeping in a different bed, in a different house and being able to hang out with my best friend was super exciting. Part of the excitement was getting an overnight bag ready. I’d pack some of my coolest toys, books and games, my favourite pillow (which to this day I still sleep with) and clothes.

I remember my mom would always throw in a surprise treat so that I had something to look forward to when I opened my bag at my friend’s house.

Once I was packed and ready I’d nag my parents to hurry up so that I could get to my bestie’s house as soon as possible.

After my parents kissed me goodbye and drove off my friend and I would rush back inside to unpack my bag and put our pyjamas on. We’d be allowed to watch a movie together before brushing our teeth and getting into bed.

Tears, fears, nerves and nightmares

It was all still exciting until the lights went off. I’ll never forget the feeling that took over once it came time to go to sleep, because from that night on it would happen again and again every time I attempted a sleepover at someone else's house. My tummy would tense up, my head became heavy and the knot in my throat would become uncontrollable until I'd burst into tears.

My friend would try convince me that the feeling would go away and that I shouldn't go home. But there was no stopping it. 

As an adult the closest feeling I can associate the homesickness with is that of severe claustrophobia. Once it kicked in, there was no stopping it no matter how hard I tried. The more I tried the worse it became.  

Eventually my parents were called to come and fetch me. I remember waiting on my friend's couch with her parents until my parents would arrive.

I struggled with homesickness for years after that. Even when I was convinced that I'd be fine and I was overwhelmed with excitement to try another sleepover, the same pattern would follow. When bedtime came my poor parents would have to end their night together to come and fetch me.

In pediatrics expert Christopher Thurber says that "homesickness occurs to some degree in nearly everyone leaving familiar surroundings and entering a new environment" 

Here are some tips on how to deal with homesickness:

Warn the other parents

Some parents might feel embarrassed to tell other parents that their child suffers from homesickness, especially if the child is a bit older. Rather prepare the other parents so that they know what to do and how best to help avoid homesickness from happening.

Don't get angry

Although it can be frustrating when you get a phone call late at night asking you to go and fetch your child, try be calm and gentle with your child instead of getting cross with them for not being able to stick it out or for disrupting your evening.

Anxiety management

Anxiety is a common cause for homesickness and sometimes there's no real way of knowing when anxiety will hit. Make sure that your child isn't going through a period of restlessness and that they're feeling settled with their life before planning a night away from home. Experts say that homesickness can occur when someone doesn't feel anchored for a period of time.

Friendly, parent advice

Chatting to your child about their homesickness in a way that doesn't make them feel like it's such a big deal is a good place to start. If you can get onto the topic lightly, give your child a few tips to remember the next time they feel homesick. Parents feel reluctant to talk openly about it with their children because they think it might induce the likelihood of it happening, but creating security around their feelings is key to overcoming homesickness. 

Distraction

When you subtly suggest ideas or tips for your child to remember the next time they feel homesick, suggest that they try and do something to take their mind off of how they're feeling. It is impossible for the human brain to think about two things at the same time. If you're thinking about next week's rugby game you won't be able to calculate sums in your head at the same time. Tell your child to think of a song or a rhyme in their head, or to read a book the next time they feel homesickness coming on.

Don't compare siblings

Never say things like "Nicky doesn't cry or need us to fetch her when she gets homesick, so neither should you." This causes even more anxiety and pressure for your child to actively have to think about not feeling homesick, which could result in it becoming even more of a problem where they'll feel that homesickness is something you don't understand. 

Does your child suffer from homesickness and how do you deal with it? Send your comments to chatback@parent24.com.

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