How to Prepare for Homesickness
This summer, millions of children worldwide will attend overnight camp for the first time. They will get to experience being part of a community that fosters independence, problem solving, skill development, and exploration in the outdoors. Part of the magic of summer camp is that you are getting to try things for the first time and make daily decisions…WITHOUT YOUR PARENTS! This can be both exciting and a little anxiety provoking, as many campers will also encounter their first experience with homesickness.
FACTS ABOUT HOMESICKNESS
- Homesickness is a completely normal experience that most children, adolescents, and adults experience when they are separated from their home or family, although in varying degrees.
- At camp, we most frequently observe homesickness at nighttime and when its time to go to bed. Counselors are prepared to help campers work through these emotions and many have specific routines (e.g. read a book, music, goodnight hugs) to help with falling asleep.
- Any camper can experience homesickness. There is no specific group or type of camper that is more prone to experiencing homesickness. Regardless of gender, age, returning/new, day/overnight camp, or even if your child is attending with a friend/sibling, it is a possibility.
- While many kids may experience some degree of homesickness at the beginning of the week or at nighttime, it is incredibly rare that it escalates to the point where they decide to go home.
Here are some things that parents can do to prepare their child for camp and reduce the stress of homesickness:
1. Have your child stay overnight at a friend or relative’s house. Short-term sleepovers can help to prepare your future camper for the experience of overnight camp. It allows them to practice sleeping in a bed that is not their own and with people that have a different nighttime routine.
2. Express your confidence in your child and how brave they are. Leading up to their week of camp, talk up their skills and strengths. Tell them how proud you are of them and how confident you are in their independence. If your child is confident at the start of the week and focused on the fun they are going to have, that helps them get through the toughest part.
3. Focus on the fun they are going to have. Its normal to be anxious about entrusting the safety of your child to someone else for a whole week. But, if your kids know that you are anxious about their safety or ability to “last the week” they will internalize that and doubt themselves.
4. Involve your child in the decision to attend Camp. When considering signing your child up for a week of camp, include them in the decision about which camp is the best fit. Ask your child if he/she is ready to try overnight camp. If they play a role in the decision making, they will be more likely to start the week with confidence and ownership.
5. Pack some key items from home. Personal items like photos, stuffed animals, books or a specific blanket that they always use to fall asleep are good things to bring to camp. Also, be sure to pack letter writing materials (paper, envelopes, stamps, etc.) if your child plans to write home during the week. For some, letter writing can be therapeutic to work through homesickness.
6. DON’T make a pact with your child about picking them up. Sometimes, when parents/kids are anxious ahead of time they will make a deal about being allowed to leave camp if they are homesick. Unfortunately, this can often make it harder for kids that are homesick because they don’t try to integrate, won’t accept help form our staff, or they know they “only have to make it to Tuesday.”
7. Bring your child to one of our Open Houses! Come to one of our upcoming Open Houses so that your child can take a tour of camp, meet some of our staff, and look inside some of our cabins. This gives your child something to look forward to, a sneak peak at what to expect, and a familiar face or two on the first day.
If any child is experiencing severe or persistent homesickness we will absolutely be in contact with you. Our staff is excellent at supporting and redirecting typical levels of homesickness, but if it becomes more we will contact you to talk about a plan and how to best support your child.