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Home for Christmas – your child, homesickness and how to handle it.

child home for christmas imageArticle by Caroline Carr

Has your son or daughter just finished their first term at university or college? How have they been? And how have you been? Has the break away from you been tricky or traumatic, or has it been absolutely fine?

Lots of young people will not allow themselves to admit to being homesick – yet I reckon many long to be back with their families for ages after they have ‘left home.’ This can fuel or even trigger anxiety and/or depression sometimes. And you might never know, because they don’t tell you.

I had a client who had a promising career, but had developed what I believe was a Generalised Anxiety Disorder whilst at University. She had told no-one, but her student life was marred by underlying feelings of worry and anxiety, and also very low mood – and she had no idea why. She had coped with her studies really well, and was now enjoying her work, but she knew something wasn’t right. During hypnosis we discovered that all she’d really wanted whilst at university, was to be back at home, or at least to have her family nearby. The irony was that this was the student who had travelled on her own to India, and worked there as a volunteer for several months after leaving school without batting an eyelid!

The start of homesickness

Whilst in hypnosis, she began to weep, and described how during the weeks prior to her leaving for university, her mother had often been tearful, and built the whole thing up into a massively big deal. Her grandparents had come over to say goodbye and she described how they and her younger brother and sister looked so sad as they waved her off at the door. Her parents silently drove her to university, and just as they were about to leave her there, her mother hugged her really tightly and cried, and her father had tears in his eyes as he said goodbye. My client had felt terrible, empty and lost as she watched them drive off. This seemed to be the start of an aching homesickness, which is something that she had never experienced before, and which I feel fuelled anxiety and a low level of depression. She realised then that her family’s reaction to her leaving, had not been helpful.

Yet homesickness can strike any young person, whatever their relationship with their family, and however their families react towards them leaving home. But as one young man told me, “It’s not cool to be homesick, so you don’t say that you are.” And if you don’t acknowledge how you feel and express it somehow, it may well fester and grow into a sadness or agitation that becomes really hard to deal with.

Three things to consider if your son or daughter is home for Christmas

So whilst your son or daughter is home for the Christmas break, it might be helpful to consider these three things:

  • Accept that they may well have feelings of homesickness when living away from home, regardless of how they have adapted and handled things in the past, or of what sort of temperament they have. These feelings could range from mild and occasional, to intense and overwhelming a lot of the time. Having a great time whilst at home again, can sometimes make it harder to leave.
  • Casually check out how they are feeling, and learn a little about anxiety and depression, so that you are aware of the signs, and so that they are. I suggest you talk openly together about homesickness, depression and anxiety in a very matter-of-fact way, so that they realise that there need be no stigma attached to any mental or emotional health issues. Also encourage them to understand that they will feel better in time, that there is help and support there for them. Most universities and colleges have pastoral support and counselling available to students, and many make use of these facilities – even though they mightn’t admit that they do.
  • If you feel emotional and vulnerable yourself (especially at the thought of them going away again) talk to someone else about how you feel, but not them. Your son or daughter does not need to know, and as with my client above, you could unwittingly be adding to their concerns. Be there for them, but don’t smother them with your love for them or your worry about them, or your need to protect them.

They say that parting is usually more challenging for those who are left behind, as they are not the ones who are going on to new things. Perhaps in this case, it is appropriate that it stays that way.


Founder of LET THE SUNSHINE IN - a unique recourse for those who want to connect with their bright side, especially when their partner is depressed, Caroline has been billed as The UK’s Leading Expert for Partners Living with Depression. She is a life and laughter coach, a hypnotherapist and the author of several self-help books, including ‘Living with depression’ and ‘How not to worry.’ Caroline has been interviewed on television and radio, is frequently quoted in the national press, and has written for a range of magazines and specialist health publications.

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