Homesickness is an absolutely normal part of summer camp. Wouldn’t it be strange if campers didn’t miss home at all? If you’re worried about your camper being homesick, you are not alone! There are some strategies to try before and during camp to help reduce and overcome homesickness.
1) Ask your child how homesick they think they’ll feel on a scale of 1 to 10.
If your child guessed 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4, say something like: “Your natural homesick feelings probably won’t bother you at all while you’re at camp. If you happen to think about home, it will probably make you smile.”
If your child guessed 5, 6, or 7, say something like: “Your homesick feelings might bother you once or twice. However, if you try hard to have fun, then these feelings won’t bother you as much.
If your child guessed 8, 9, or 10, say something like: “Your homesick feelings might get in the way on some days. Maybe not. The good news is that learning how to deal with homesickness, before you go to camp, always makes you feel better.
2) If you feel reluctant to talk about homesickness with your child, you’re in good company. Nevertheless, you’ll be pleased to know that research has repeatedly demonstrated that talking about homesickness does not make kids more likely to feel homesick at camp. Of course, talking about anything for too long gets boring, so you mostly should focus on how much fun camp will be. If talking about camp arouses strong feelings in your child, it’s a good idea to talk about those feelings now, before camp starts. Research has also shown that most kids who learn to deal with homesick feelings before they go to camp are great at coping with those feelings during camp. They truly enjoy the experience. Also, the more that kids learn about their particular camp before they go, the more fun they have.
3) Use a wall calendar to help your child plan for camp. Show your child when camp starts, how long it lasts, and when you’ll pick them up. The fewer surprises, the less nervous the whole family will be about camp. We have seen a few campers who arrived at camp pretty stressed out because their parents mixed up which session they were coming. The families went into tailspins when they realized that camp started tomorrow (!) instead of two weeks from tomorrow. As soon as you register, mark “Opening Day” and “Closing Day” boldly on your wall calendar.
4) Put the length of stay in perspective. Kids, especially younger ones, don’t have accurate concepts of time. To them, two or four weeks can sound like an eternity. Putting time in perspective is a method of giving them an accurate idea of how long they’ll be away from home. This kind of factual preparation often diminishes anxious feelings. Refer your child to a memorable time of similar length. For most kids, March break is a good one. You can say, “Well, you’ll be at camp for nine days, and that’s about how long March break lasted. Did that seem like a long time, a short time, or just right?” Your child’s answer is not as important as their accurate mental focus on what nine days feels like. Putting time in perspective helps kids get a handle on the duration aspect of overnight camp. The more predictable camp seems, the more comfortable it actually is.
5) Keep doubts to yourself. Try not to say things that will make your child worry about how you’ll feel when they’re away at camp. Sure, you’ll miss them, but you’ve got some interesting things to do while they’re at camp, right? Good. Better to say, “Of course I’ll miss you, because I love you. But I know you’ll have a great time at camp” than to say, “I don’t know what I’m going to do while you’re gone having a great time at camp. I’m going to miss you so much, but I’ll survive somehow.” The first sentences convey a positive message and the second ones give your child something to worry about. Leaving home is easier for kids when they know that everything is going to be all right while they’re gone.
6) Avoid the urge to speak with your child during their session at camp and remember that ‘no news is good news’. Sometimes, the parents/guardians are more worried about the child being at camp than the camper is worried about being at camp! Parents are always welcome and encouraged to call or e-mail the camp director to get an update on how their child is doing or to speak to their camp counsellor. Speaking to the child directly will often make the experience harder for the child. Our counsellors are trained in dealing with homesickness and if the child is sick or extremely distressed about being away from home, we will call you to either give you an update, or to have you speak to your child. Speaking to or receiving a visit from parents/guardians will often remind campers of what and who they are missing at home so it is best to let us redirect their attention into the fun of camp.
*We only send children home for homesickness if they are so upset that they are not able to enjoy the camping experience. This judgement will be made after the first day of camp.*