Summer Camp Blues: What to do when Your Child is Homesick

From the ‘Everything Summer Guide & Planner’ by Jill Tipograph
homesick.jpg Homesickness… The feeling of sadness due to separation from one’s home or parents is very normal. It can last a few days, go away and return again, or continue until kids see their parents on visiting day or their homecoming. Typical times during which homesickness can set in, are when families are normally together at home such as waking up, meals, and going to bed. Homesickness can also occur during times of inactivity at camp. Use these tips to help your child, and you, cope with and overcome those lonely moments when you wish you were back home with your family.
1 Review the director Identify coping strategies available at camp. Homesickness assistance is part of staff training. You can expect counselors to listen, encourage friendships and busy-ness, play ice-breaker games with kids (especially in the first few days of camp) and promote letter writing. Additional strategies include touring the camp in detail on the first day for familiarity; volunteering to help in the dining hall or office; keeping a journal of feelings.
2 Ensure your child knows to turn to camp staff for assistance. Reassure your child that the camp will call parents if necessary. Explain when you will talk to your child, and how often you will write. Be sure these match your camp’s policies. Discuss how your child will personalize his/her bunk space, so the newness does not feel so strange.
3 Send small reminder items from home. These may include photos, a favorite pillow, books, mementos, encouraging notes or cards or a special box of feel-good items a child can turn to in times of sadness to make him/her smile and feel better.
4. Keeping busy, not spending time alone, participating in activities and traditions is very helpful. Remind kids that going to camp is not much different from succeeding at other new experiences they tried, such as moving, enrolling in a new school, or staying overnight at the home of a friend or family member. The difference is the distance, length of time, and that they cannot immediately turn to their parents for support.
5. Remain positive at all times. Parents play an integral role in helping their kids overcome homesickness. You made the overnight camp decision jointly with your child. Do not send mixed messages. Do not make any promise to pick your child up – kids then lose the encouragement to succeed at separating and benefiting from the camp experience. Instead please remind your child that you collectively made this commitment, and you will work through this together (parents, child and camp).
Remember that kids may write sad letters in the moment of homesickness or a time of being hurt. Documenting their feelings is therapeutic and the negative thoughts pass quickly. Don’t over-analyze it. Pick up the phone and call the camp at any time to check on any concerns you may have. Write funny, upbeat and encouraging letters and cards. Send frequent e-mails as well if your camp allows this so your child hears from you often. Don’t dwell on home activities; focus on what’s going on at camp. If homesickness is lasting, break down your child’s expectations into small pieces so he/she can get through each day. Tell your child to write home that night about his/her day, noting his/her efforts to make one new friend or try a new activity; that you will call the camp in two days to see how he/she is doing. Each time your child accomplishes one step, he/she is committing further to getting over homesickness.
‘Camp Sick’ parents also need to adjust to their kids being away, but be sure to separate your own anxieties from those of your kids. As referenced previously, familiarize yourself with the camp, director, your child’s routines and all camp policies ahead of time. Technology today helps with the transition, since parents at most camps can view photos on a secure, password protected website while their kids are away. But do not call the camp requesting to see your child. Most photos are taken randomly to reflect different activities and types/ages of kids. The viewing process itself is a strategy that brings you closer to your child and his/her environment.
Remember that sleep-away camp is one of the most wonderful experiences a child can have, and sometimes life’s greatest lessons and memories are not easy, but well worth the hard efforts.