To help parents and guardians of boarding school students address homesickness at boarding school, we have provided a number of homesickness tips related to academics, dorm life, counseling, communications, as well as clubs and other extracurricular activities. This article will help you develop your own personal strategies to help your teen grow and thrive and make a smooth adjustment to boarding school life.
Tips for Parents and Guardians – Homesickness at Boarding School
Focus on these main three areas below to prevent and help homesickness. Your teen will build resilience, independence, and enjoy the freedom at boarding school if they can overcome homesickness and will thank you someday!
- Create Supportive Networks
- Maintain Communication
- Encourage Co-Curricular Activities
Creating a Supportive Network
- Know your teenager’s friends – Invite friends over if you live close to the boarding school for a weekend, or if farther away, during an extended holiday break. Living away from home in a dorm is a brand new experience so make sure you get to know your child’s roommate as well.
- Attend parent-teacher conferences – Connecting in-person with teachers by phone or via Facetime or Zoom will help you detect and discuss any symptoms of homesickness that teachers may be noticing. Most boarding schools have a simple staff and faculty directory on their website to make it easy to reach out by email or phone.
- Reach out to residential staff regularly – Find out how long homesickness typically lasts at your teen’s respective boarding school and find out about the school’s specific strategies to combat homesickness. As a “parent away from home” residential life staff at boarding schools ensure students are active and engaged after classes end. They monitor your teen’s life in the dorms and participation in areas such as: clubs, trips, athletics, weekend activities, leadership training, character development, study habits, counseling check-ins, tutoring sessions, personal hygiene, health and nutrition, and even monitor social life.
- Join the parents’ association – Talk to other parents about what their kids are going through, how long homesickness lasts, and share tips about ways to combat homesickness at boarding school. Just hearing from other parents can put your mind at ease and help you communicate better with your teenager.
- Connect with school counselors – Your teenager’s school counselor is typically trained in academic counseling, as well as social-emotional issues. Boarding school counselors can be very helpful in educating students about homesickness and giving your child personalized support. They are familiar with mental health topics such as: depression, anxiety, sleep issues, and social media / tech dependence.
- Introduce yourself early to administrators – In particular, make sure you know the President or Head, Dean, Residential Life Director, Athletic Director, Weekend Activities Director, and Health Center Director. If you need to elevate concerns, reach out to someone at the director level. The Office of Admission can also be helpful as this was your first connection to the boarding school.
Maintaining Communication at Home
- Set a schedule – Adhere to a schedule for phone calls, emails, and texting while your child is at boarding school. Also, equally important, while at home, set aside for communications with the family during meals, trips, and activities.
- Stay in touch – Don’t just rely on texting or emails or even phone calls. Letters or postcards from home can make your teen feel connected to their families while attending a boarding school. Stay in touch on a regular basis.
- Send packages – Communicate your love and care through small gifts from friends and family back home. Care packages really help with homesickness. Send care packages with items you know your teenager will enjoy such as: art supplies, books, games, goodies, fun notes, photos, etc.
- Use online systems – Learn how to use academic portals like Aeries to check-in on grades, attendance, disciplinary actions, and more. Discuss progress openly with your teen and watch for any issues with homework, exams, or a growing lack of interest. Also, stay up-to-date on campus happenings via social media and school email newsletters so you can talk to your teen about campus life.
- Ensure safety – If your teen knows you are being protective, this can help ward off homesickness and insecurity. Every boarding school has protocols for safety so ensure you register for safety alerts. Also, take measures to monitor mobile devices and have open discussions about technology safety and use of social media.
- Watch for symptoms – Talk openly when you see symptoms of homesickness like feeling sad or expressing negative feelings. Your child’s mental health depends on it. According to MIT Medical, “homesickness can feel different to different people. Some people may often feel sad and lonely and cry. Other people may find it hard to focus and work. Some people even have physical symptoms like frequent stomach aches or headaches.”
- Watch for how long homesickness lasts – Best College indicates “researchers have found that homesickness can last anywhere from three weeks to more than a year. In one study, 94% of students reported experiencing homesickness at some point during their first 10 weeks of college. There’s no quick fix to homesickness — it takes time and patience.”
Getting Involved in School Activities
If your teen is asking you how not to be homesick at boarding school, make sure you encourage lots of co-curricular activities. One of the biggest take-aways for boarding school students centers around meeting new people and having fun. Friendships often develop and grow during sports and extracurricular activities.
- Extracurriculars – Encourage your teen(s) to step outside their comfort zone and sign up for various extracurricular clubs and activities where they can meet new people based on personal interests. This will help build and expand a network of friends to keep your child’s mind off home and help overcome homesickness.
- Weekend Activities – Work with your teen to register and/or pay for weekend activities so they avoid hanging out in dorms and doing online games or tech work. Fresh air, sunshine, exercise, and fun activities on the weekend really do make a difference in keeping homesickness in check.
- Fitness and Athletics – Support your teen by going to athletic events at the boarding school if you live close by. Alternatively, watch livestreams on YouTube and contact your teen after each game. They will feel your active presence and support if they know you are watching, even if by remote.
- Academic Enrichment and Support – Discuss and seek out ways to provide academic enrichment and support. For instance, your child might miss your presence or help during homework time. The whole boarding school experience helps kids take more direct responsibility for homework completion and exam prep, but your child could need a tutor, more time after school with faculty, or frequent sessions with an assigned school counselor. Also, make sure your teen is following the school’s study schedules as structure helps kids focus on other things besides their feelings of homesickness.
- College Prep – Beyond SAT test prep, getting good grades, and taking AP and honors classes, college tours are a great way to help your teen focus. Seeing a bright independent future can help boarding school students reinforce their goals and see the benefits of preparing in middle school and/or high school for an independent life in college and adulthood.
- Trips – Spring trips abroad help boarding school students bond with faculty, staff, and friends. Students have a chance to experience a high sense of independence in a completely foreign place. This builds high self-esteem and self-sufficiency and helps kids prepare to leave home for college in the future. This is why boarding school is such great preparation for college. Typically, boarding school students do much better in their freshman year because they have already gained a high level of independence, self-discipline and resilience.
You now have some strategies and tactics for helping your teenager get over homesickness at boarding school. Remember to use the boarding school’s support systems, communicate openly and encourage your teen to stay active in extracurricular activities.
Searching for a “boarding school in the U.S.” or a “boarding school near me?” Here are some school directories below. On these sites, you can find filters to input your preferences, including information such as: school types (e.g. denominational, non- denominational, coed, all-girls, all-boys, military boarding schools, military academies).
In addition, you can search for college prep boarding schools with specialized programs (e.g. ESL/ESOL for international students, support classes and programs for students with learning differences, and schools with honors and advanced placement classes).