Homesickness

With school trips coming up shortly, there are steps that a school can take to prevent or at least markedly decrease levels of homesickness.

Yesterday an elderly acquaintance revealed that he felt homesick throughout his secondary school. He attended not, as one might imagine, a boarding school, but a local secondary modern school.

I started to think about the psychology of homesickness: what is it and how can it be prevented and treated?

There is something quite Medieval about Homesickness; it is a kind of invasive melancholia brought on by thoughts of home. In severe cases it can be quite debilitating and may lead to anxiety, depression and even physical ailments. Homesickness, or Nostalgia, as it is sometimes called, has been throughout history a source of inspiration to artists, poets and composers, due to the intensity of this emotion.

For most of our children, the most common experience of homesickness will be that of the school trip or going to college. Recent research on this topic generally receommends that the focus is on prevention rather than treatment.

Psychologist Christopher Thruber (Thruber, 2006) offers advice about both preventing and treating homesickness. Firstly, he has concluded that discussing homesickness does not make it happen. To the contrary, talking about homesickness labels the feeling, normalizes it, and puts everyone in a better position to deal with it. He suggests the following:

 

  • Have a trial time away from home, such as spending the weekend (without parents) at a relative’s house
  • Trip orientation materials, including colourful images of a typical day and a copy of the daily schedule
  • coaching for parents on the best ways to involve their child in the decision to go on the school trip, as well as trip preparation, such as shopping and packing
  • coaching for parents on the best ways to prepare their child emotionally for the separation from home, including not making “pick-up deals” ( this has proved to be very important) and sharing anxiety only with other adults
  • educating children about the normalcy of missing home and teaching them the most effective coping strategies for homesickness
  • providing information about the caring school culture and all the ways staff will provide warm supports and exciting opportunities

A well-designed prevention programme works to promote adjustment and minimize homesickness intensity because it:

  • bolsters confidence, through experiential learning (e.g., practice time away from home)
  • reduces anxiety, through novelty reduction (e.g., orientation about staying in the hostel/camp)
  • increases competence, through skill acquisition (e.g., how to cope with homesickness)
  • supports families, through personal attention (e.g., coaching parents and children about school trip culture)
  • enhances positive attitudes, through illustration (e.g., showing how much fun school trips are)
  • boosts feelings of control, through participation (e.g., planning together, as a family)

For older students about to go to university, similar steps can be taken to prevent the torture of homesickness. It has been shown that the risk of homesickness can be fairly well predicted by asking the young person how homesick they think they will be. Once again, nothing can be lost and everything gained by discussing this topic beforehand.

References:

Visit Kidshealth.org for some advice for children about to go away from home, on how to avoid or minimise homesickness.

 

Thruber, C. (2006) Essentials of Homesickness Prevention: Dramatic Reductions in Homesickness Intensity Depend on What You Do Before Opening Day USA: Camping Magazine: May/June 2006.

 

Now Read: The Language of Behaviour

 

Image Credits:Locator

 

1 comment to Homesickness

  • During the Blitz of 1941/1 at the age of 8,I had a septic knee and was hospitalized in Epsom,Surrey -just two bus rides away,and 4 miles from my Sutton home. German bombers were raiding at night over towards home and the anti-aircraft guns could be heard. I remember feeling I wanted to be over there- in the raids- with my family. Of a different and pervading intensity however, was,in 1944,aged 12, being evacuated, along with several thousand other kids,to Mid Wales to escape the V1 flying bombs, that had built-up in intensity from their onset in June. Nights were worse, when the gnawing intensity of homesickness haunted me. I felt betrayed, as I wanted to be with my family and friends. This feeling stayed with for many years, into adulthood and induced a feeling of discomfort and unease whenever I went away on holiday- even a long weekend! With the advent of car ownership however, came a gradual decrease in feelings of anxiety. Certain books,films,sounds, TV programmes etc,can still stir those unsettling feelings but I’ve ‘learned ‘ to value and enjoy them like added “spice” to my other, warmer memories!

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