Grandma I don't feel well!
We heard this refrain four times on our vacation from Ruth and Emily and this is how homesickness starts with real physical pain. That butterfly feeling in your tummy followed by an overwhelming sense that something is terribly wrong.
Homesickness in our experience happens under three conditions.
Most frequently about 30 minutes after bedtime, when the lights are turned low, the room has gone quiet and there is nothing to distract the young mind from noticing that:
- the pillow and sheets feel different and most importantly the smell different,
- the sounds of the house or hotel room are different and unexplainable and
- lastly comes the realization that Mom and Dad are not in the next room and you have no way to get to them.
The second condition is illness or accident where your young ward is experiencing physical pain. Here they just want their parents! It is an irrational and overwhelming need for the feel, sound and smell of their parents.
The third is when they have been corrected or disciplined. They experience embarrassment and shock that you that special grandparent, Aunt or Uncle would call them out just like their parents.
The final condition is in the first hour following contact with their parents and here is it the understanding that they do miss them and to see them on an electronic screen or hear their voice on a telephone only makes their hearts ache more.
So what to do when you are hundreds of miles away from Mom and Dad and turning around is not an option!
We found that long comforting talks take one of two bad turns.
- The first is they can go on too long and it is your voice and physical closeness not the words that are bring the child comfort and so you have to keep talking along after you want too.
- Second with older children is somewhere along the comforting talk they stop being homesick and now it is a game to one up you. They begin to come up with more and more scenarios about what could happen and how you would get them to their parents or their parents to them, and each scenario is more horrific then the last until you catch on and send them to bed.
You cannot ignore homesickness because it is a real physical pain and you have a real emotionally distressed child you must attend to it.
We found that for bedtime homesickness the best response was to lay down with them in their bed and just hold them, soon they will fall asleep and you just get up and go back to your bed. Do not offer to have come into your bed because they are then there for the night.
For the first few hours after a phone call or Skype contact with family it is best to have a fun and distracting activity planned one that they know is coming and can communication to their parents near the end of the conversation giving them a way to say good bye and then be distracted.
For homesickness after both an injury and being disciplined just hold the child and tell them you love them, these words are enough as it is being physical close to you that will calm them.
They will get homesick and is has nothing to do with you or their love for you it has everything to do with being well attached to their parents and this we want this for them.