Although homesickness is a common experience, it is preventable with a little planning ahead of the separation. Talking to your girls, before they move into boarding, about how common it is to experience feelings of homesickness is a big help. By being prepared, understanding that homesick feelings are usual, and having strategies to manage these feelings, boarders will be better equipped to get the most out of their experience at Woodford House. Below are detailed tips designed to help prepare your daughter for her move into boarding (adapted from Christopher Thurber’s research, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2007):
- Discuss the upcoming separation with you daughter. The following words can be a good starting point: “Almost everyone misses something about home when they are away. Homesickness is normal. The good news is that there are lots of things you can think and do to help make things better if homesickness bothers you”.
- Involve your child in the decision to be a boarder, and involve them in the preparation as even taking part in the smallest decisions will increase their sense of control. Tasks and decisions they can be involved in are:
- Deciding what to take with them from home, including items that have special significance and photos of family and pets
- Deciding when to go if you live a distance from school. It may be possible to travel to the Hawke’s Bay a day or two early and discover Havelock North together.
- On their first visit home or from family, deciding what they will do for that time. Do they want to be picked up by family (if this is possible) or travel home on the bus if they live some distance away.
- Discuss coping strategies. Having a practice at staying away from home will boost your child’s confidence and give her an opportunity to try some of these strategies so she is better equipped to deal with homesick feelings:
- Do something fun, like play with friends, to forget about homesick feelings.
- Do something (write a letter, look at a family photo) to feel closer to home.
- Go see someone who can talk with you to help you feel better.
- Think about the positive side of things (activities, friends) to feel better.
- Think that the time away from home is actually pretty short to make time go by faster.
- Try not to think about home and loved ones to forget about homesickness.
- Think about different family members and what they would say to help.
After the practice time away from home, discuss how things went and which strategies worked best.
- Learn together about Woodford and the surrounding area.
- Help your child get to know some of the people in her new environment. Having at least one familiar face can diminish feelings of homesickness by increasing feelings of social support and connection. It doesn’t matter if this familiar face is a peer or adult. Does she know who her mentor (form teacher) will be, her Dean, boarding supervisor, the name of the school nurse and counsellor and where to find these people?
- Encourage your child to make new friends and seek the support of trusted adults. Discuss the challenges and excitement of making new friends. How does she go about this process?
- Use a wall calendar or her school diary to highlight weekends and holidays home. This demonstrates that the time they are at school is made up of discrete blocks of time with breaks at home in between. This visual guide can help students keep perspective on the separation from home.
- Do not make a “pick up deal” with your daughter. Promising that “if you don’t like it, I’ll come pick you up” decreases your child’s likelihood of success in their new environment, even if it feels intuitive as a parent to offer this. This bargain will only give your child the impression that you have so little confidence in their ability to cope with the separation that the only solution is to be rescued. It puts you in the position of either 1) fulfilling your promise to pick up your child and thereby robbing them of a wonderful opportunity to grow and develop, or 2) reneging on your promise, causing an erosion of trust in your relationship with your daughter.
- Respond to the query “what if I feel homesick?” with an honest and confident statement such as, “You will probably feel a little homesick, but your practice time away has taught you what to think or do in case any homesickness bothers you. Plus, staff members will be there to talk with you and help you make it through. You’ll have a great time”.
- Leading up to the start of their Woodford year, refrain from comments that express anxiety or ambivalence about them leaving. Even “I hope you’ll be ok” 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.
- Ensure appropriate staff members are aware of any medical or psychological conditions so we can ensure your daughter is supported appropriately.
On a final note, our advice to help parents and caregivers cope with a child moving into boarding is to plan something enjoyable for when you return home from Woodford House after that first drop off, to have confidence in how our wonderful staff will take care of your daughter, and to remember the amazing opportunities and learning experiences she is going to have at Woodford House.
If you have any queries about homesickness or settling in, please contact our School Counsellor Dr Lee Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org