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How to Help Your Freshman Who's Homesick

Advice to Help Transition Your Teen From High School to College

It seemed like just yesterday your child was anxiously awaiting the first day of kindergarten. With tears welling up, you waved good-byes from the hallway and blew enough kisses to last the next 13 years of school. Now, it's time to let go again, and experienced parents and students have the following advice to help the transition be a little easier for both you and your freshman.

I Want to Come Home!

Most parents can count on their freshman calling home at some point during the first few weeks. Jennifer Gilfilian, a mother of two in Homer, N.Y., vividly remembers being very homesick during her freshman year at Michigan State University. "I chose a huge university, because there would be so much to do, but since I was coming from such a small town, it was a really big adjustment," she says. "I would call home, but I didn't want my parents to think I made a mistake, so I didn't make it sound so bad at first, but then I would call and cry and complain."

Gilfilian's parents told her to stick with it, and they listened to her when she called home in tears. Gilfilian says that the "care packages" her mother sent from home really helped alleviate the homesickness, too. "[The care packages] really made me feel a lot better about being so far away," she says.

And while it may be very tempting to want to "rescue" your child and let them come home or quit, it's probably not the right answer. Dr. Bill Seymour, a vice president and dean of students at Maryville College in Tennessee, is also the parent of twin daughters, now in college. "The most important thing a parent can do is to be there for their student," he says.

Your student's freshman year will be like a roller coaster ride. It's important to encourage them that the lows are only temporary and the highs are just around the corner. If you have exhausted all efforts in supporting your student and they still are adamant about coming home, continue to be strong and hold firm. Dr. Seymour suggests to making a "deal" with your student. Tell them they have to stay another week and then you will talk about this issue again. During this time, make sure your student is taking advantage of resources available. All campuses have student life staff and academic advisors. Be comforted in knowing this too shall pass.

I Hate My Roommate!

Sherry Sopko of Seaside, Ore., is a mother of a college sophomore who wasn't happy with her roommate. "We told her to find other friends to hang out and study with and try to get along with the roommate as best as she could and talk with a counselor," says Sopko. Again, it's very tempting to step in and try to remedy the situation by changing roommates or moving your student off campus. But this is another life lesson that isn't always pain free to learn.

Dr. Seymour recommends parents do not intervene, unless there is a dangerous or unhealthy situation. Instead, encourage your student to solve their own problem. Again, remind your student to take advantage of the resources close by, like the residence staff. A roommate contract or some type of mediation may prove to be helpful. Time and patience seem to be the key element to forging a tolerable living arrangement. "I've seen people who thought they were totally incompatible become best buddies once they learn to communicate with each other," says Dr. Seymour.

On rare occasions when disputes cannot be resolved, then your student may consider changing roommates. However, responsibility should fall on your student to make the change.

According Billie Shelton of Stanhope, Iowa, a roommate change made her son's second half of his freshman year more positive. "I told him that it's not required to be best friends with your roommate," she says. "I could tell he really tried to make it work, but he and his roommate got other roommates shortly after Christmas break, and he was happier after that."

I Need Money!

You can almost bet that at some point during the first semester your student will call home with an urgent request for money. Before you send a check, ask questions and get to the root of the problem. Has your student run out of money because he/she spent it foolishly and can't explain where the money went? Or, is it something unexpected like a mechanical repair for their car?

If your student has made some poor decisions, Dr. Seymour recommends you don't bail them out. However, if the need is genuine then consider giving an advance or a loan. "There is something to be said about learning good money management techniques," he says. "If we as parents always bail them out, they will not learn."

If you haven't already, get an accurate picture of what the total college cost will be for the first year. Then sit down and discuss with your son or daughter what is expected of them. Be very clear of what you intend to pay for and what you expect your son or daughter to be responsible for. When your son or daughter is contributing to his college education, ownership of their education will motivate them to attend classes and strive to get good grades.

If you've set a good example in the informative years, you probably won't receive too many pleas for money. The Sheltons gave their son a credit card for emergency use only. They were assured this wouldn't be a problem because as a family they do much of their business by cash and rarely carry a credit card balance. "I think he just picked up that approach by osmosis," she says.

Shelton says that her son's freshman year was a result of supporting her son but not hovering too close. Her son confirmed that when he sent her a Mother's Day card last year that read, "I never could have made this first year of college without you!"

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