Tips For Dealing with Homesickness
As summer approaches, your child may be experiencing a flood of different emotions related to going away to camp – they may be eager, excited, nervous, anxious and/or any combination of those emotions. Research indicates that homesickness is the norm and not the exception. It is completely normal for campers and staff to feel some level of homesickness at some point during the camp session.
The good news is that successfully navigating homesickness builds self-confidence. It nurtures children’s independence and prepares them for handling difficult situations in the future.
We know that parents are critical in helping campers cope with homesickness (even while they are away at camp). So, how can you help?
Here are some tips for you to help your child deal with feelings of homesickness and anxiety about being away at camp:
- Encourage your child’s independence throughout the year. Practice daily living skills with products you are sending to camp to create confidence (opening shampoo bottles, toothbrushing, doing their hair, etc.). Have your child sleepover at a friend or grandparent’s home to practice being away.
- Involve your child in the process of shopping, labeling, and packing for camp. The more that the child is involved, the more comfortable the child will feel about camp.
- Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as picking out clothes in the morning, making their bed, putting clothes from the laundry away, and managing the bedtime routine without parent involvement.
- Send a note ahead of time so that it will arrive by the first day of camp (they’ll either get the mail that day or the next day). 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.”
- Pack a personal note in their luggage. You can even pack a few letters that tell them when you want them to open it (for example, “open on the first morning of camp, “ or “open on the first Shabbat.”) Place them on the very top of the suitcase, so it’s the first thing they see when they go to unpack. The content of the letters should be short, encouraging, and positive, expressing your excitement about all you know they will be experiencing. Throw in some funny photos or anything you know will make your child feel good.
- Pack a personal item from home, such as a stuffed animal or favorite pillow, and some downtime activities they enjoy (i.e. cards, crossword puzzles, sudoku, magazines, etc.).
- Block out the camp dates on a calendar and show your child what it looks like. (But, don’t send it with your child so that he or she will be focusing on counting the days until camp ends.)
- Make sure that camp staff knows if there are any major transitions or changes in the family that may impact your child’s adjustment to camp. Homesickness may be more pronounced if the family went through a recent loss or stressful period such as a death of a pet or relative, marital separation, or a move.
- Don’t bribe them by linking a successful stay at camp to a material object. It sends the wrong message. The reward should be your child’s newfound confidence and independence. But, you can say things to them like “what do you want me to make for dinner for your first night home?” Treat them to something special (favorite meal or dessert or evening activity) the night before camp because you’re so excited for them!
- Don’t make any kind of pick-up deal. Saying, “Give it a few days and if you aren’t happy, we’ll come to get you,” or “If you aren’t happy at camp, you don’t have to stay,” undermines children’s confidence and ensures they’ll be preoccupied with home from the moment they arrive at camp. In addition, you don’t want to be in the position of not keeping a promise you made them. We have a lot of experience with this, and once a child knows that parents won’t pick them up, they recover quickly and move on to have a great experience at camp. So, don’t put yourself in the position of having to take back something you said. 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. There are lots of people who will help you!”
- Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. For many children, camp is the first step toward independence and plays an important role in their growth and development.
- Don’t share your anxiety. Only share your optimism. Share your concerns with another adult, such as your spouse or the camp director. Children will feel your anxiety. Do your best to stay positive and excited for them (as you should be!)
- Don’t give your child something to worry about. Don’t say things like, “Have a great time at camp. I hope I remember to feed your fish.” Giving your child something to worry about while she’s away will only increase homesickness.
- Kiss and Fly – Make your drop-off quick and painless. By saying goodbye without lingering you send your child a message that you trust their ability to navigate the weeks away. You know they will do great and they need to see and feel that. Smile and say “I love you, you’re going to have the time of your life” and leave quickly.
- Contact camp to obtain a perspective on your child’s adjustment, especially if you have any concerns or received any negative letters or emails.
- Do work closely with our camp staff in order to help your child navigate homesickness and work through it. It is critical your child receives the same messages from camp and home. We will work with you and advise you on how best to communicate with your child if he/she is feeling homesick.
- Write your child daily – emails are great, but be sure they receive regular mail several times a week. It really matters to them. Only write positive things and funny stories. Remember, nothing is exciting at home and they are not missing anything, so don’t write about anything that might make them sad to have missed at home. Do write them about exciting things that will be happening after camp ends.
- Don’t send your child a letter that tells them something sad or upsetting (like an ill or dying pet or grandparent or friend, or an upcoming move that they were not fully aware of). Please contact camp and we will help you determine the best way to inform your child of a difficult situation
- Don’t send a package that has contraband (candy, cookies, water balloons, squirt guns, silly string, fireworks) in it. We open packages and pull those things out. Only send flat envelopes and always include a letter (you may include these in the envelope: magazines, newspaper articles, photos, gum, powder drink packets). It’s not fun for a child to receive an opened package with nothing in it, or a letter describing what was in the package, so they will know what was removed. (So, please inform friends and family of our package policy as well).
- Don’t send a letter or note saying that you will come to get them if they aren’t able to work through their homesickness (they absolutely will not be able to get through it if you write that to them). Contact us to help you write a letter to your child that they won’t be able to misconstrue as a promise to come to get them.
While many children (and staff) experience homesickness, most feel much better within a day or two. We train our staff on working with campers who feel homesick and our camp clinicians will support staff and campers in helping everyone get through homesickness. Managing homesickness teaches campers, staff, and parents that they can handle a few moments of discomfort and that they can accomplish things that may seem difficult at first. We will partner with you to make sure your child has a successful and happy summer!