Tips for Dealing with Homesickness
Here are some tips for you to help your child deal with feelings of homesickness and anxiety:
- Encourage your child’s independence throughout the year. Practice separations, such as sleepovers at a friend’s house – this can simulate the camp environment and being away from home.
- Involve your child in the process of preparing for camp. The more that the child owns the experience, the more comfortable the child will feel being at camp (ie let them pick out their luggage, their camp clothes, have them help label things, etc).
- Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as picking out clothes in the morning, asking for help when necessary, or managing the bedtime routine without parent involvement.
- Send a note or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp. Acknowledge, in a positive way, that you will miss your child. For example, you can say “I am going to miss you, but I know that you will have a good time at camp.”
- Don’t bribe. Linking a successful stay at camp to a material object sends the wrong message. The reward should be your child’s newfound confidence and independence.
- Pack a personal item from home, such as a stuffed animal or favorite pillow.
- Never ever make a pick-up deal. Saying, “If you feel homesick, we’ll come get you” undermines children’s confidence and ensures they’ll be preoccupied with home from the moment they arrive at camp. Instead of making a pick-up deal, say, “I’m sure that if you miss home, you and your counselor will be able to work together to help you feel better. Camp will be a blast and we will see you on the last day!”
- Talk candidly with the camp staff to obtain his/her perspective on your child’s adjustment. It is critical that your child is getting the same message from you as well as our camp staff in order to help your child navigate homesickness and work through it.
- Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your child to go to camp. For many children, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in their growth and development.
- Share your optimism, not your anxiety. Talk about all the positive aspects of camp and share your concerns only with another adult, such as your partner or the camp director. Avoid giving your child a mixed message by saying something like, “Have a great time at camp. I hope I remember to feed your dog.” Giving your child something to worry about while she’s away will only increase homesickness.
- Block out the camp dates on a calendar, so your child can put the separation into perspective.
Things to Consider
While many children experience homesickness, most feel much better within a day or two. If you can handle their temporary discomfort, they will probably be able to handle it, too. Homesickness may be more pronounced if the family went through a recent loss or stressful period such as a death of a relative or marital separation. Homesickness, while uncomfortable, can make a child feel competent when he learns he can overcome it.
When children write extremely homesick letters, they often include a request to be picked up. What’s the message there? On the surface, the message is: “I am (or was) homesick.” Underneath, the message is, “I’ve lost confidence in myself.” The severely homesick child is like a mountain climber who gets tired halfway up the mountain. The summit looks far away, and suddenly, the climber doesn’t think he can make it. He has lost confidence. It’s going to take someone else’s empathy and encouragement for him to regain his confidence and climb the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. As a parent, you need to be that someone for your homesick child. Instill as much confidence as you can.
OK, then, what are the most effective ways of coping with homesickness at camp? What advice can you write in a letter or e-mail to your son or daughter if you get a homesick letter?
- Stay busy. Doing a fun, physical activity nearly always reduces homesickness intensity.
- Stay positive. Remembering all the cool stuff you can do at camp keeps the focus on fun, not on home.
- Stay in touch. Writing letters, looking at a photo from home, or holding a memento from home can be very comforting.
- Stay social. Making new friends is a perfect antidote to bothersome homesickness. Talking to the staff at camp is also reassuring.
- Stay focused. Remember that you’re not at camp forever, just a few weeks. Bringing a calendar to camp helps you be clear about the length of your stay.
- Stay confident. Anti-homesickness strategies take some time to work. Kids who stick with their strategies for five or six days almost always feel better.
When children make it through a bout of homesickness and complete their planned stay at camp, they feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.
Our staff are prepared and trained to work with kids who are going through feelings of homesickness. We also have a full time social worker on staff to help kids who may be struggling more than the normal amount. We encourage open lines of communication with parents and the partnership between camp and parents is critical in helping campers get through these feelings and be successful at camp.
As always, please feel free to contact me to discuss any concerns or questions you may have. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 847-677-7130.