Homesickness as Psychological Condition
> 1/3/2007 1:51:45 PM

Nearly every child living away from home for the first time will experience some degree of nostalgia for a familiar environment - missing parents, siblings, friends, pets, etc. But for a surprising number of young people, the condition has a causal relationship with anxiety, depression, and unhealthy lifestyle choices that can lead to decreased performance and may only grow more intense with time.

It's fairly common for a child to cry before leaving for summer camp or call his or her parents every night during freshman year of college. For a percentage suffering from severe homesickness, the problem can lead to social withdrawal and depressive or obsessive behaviors as well as somatization, or reporting various seemingly unrelated physical symptoms that are ultimately psychological in origin. Though some will be quick to dismiss the idea of homesickness as a legitimate condition, it can very easily result in social isolation, academic underperformance and lack of concentration, or disregard for physical wellness. Among college students, a common response to excessive homesickness is retreat into undesirable habits or hard-partying lifestyles.

A recent large-scale study on the homesickness phenomenon by the American Academy of Pediatrics asserts that parents and caregivers can be on the lookout for warning signs: younger children who've never spent time away from home will naturally be more likely to develop persistent homesickness, as will those confined to a hospital or similar institution. Kids who feel like they have no power of choice over their circumstances are more susceptible to withdrawal and feelings of helplessness. If a parent expresses anxiety about a child's absence, the child will suffer from a greater instance of the same stresses. Of course, talking to a child in a rational way about being away from home is a start. Allowing or encouraging them to spend small periods of time away will also help prepare them for bigger transitions. Sleepovers can help ease the way into a stay at summer camp. Familiarizing the child with the new location is also good. Parents should visit the site and look it up online if possible. Perhaps the most successful remedy for extreme homesickness is to keep the child involved in organized activities, thereby allowing for less time to be spent thinking about the environment he or she is leaving behind.

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