Preventing Homesickness at Camp
Tips for Parents on Preventing Homesickness
Here is a some helpful information on helping your child avoid homesickness at camp. I have 15 years of experience working at residential camps (Outdoor Science Schools), and in that time, I have had a bit of experience with what is helpful for homesick campers, and what is not. The article below, reprinted from the American Camp Association, is a useful primer on homesickness prevention for your consideration:
Homesickness Dos and Don’ts for Parents Preparing for Camp
By Daniel Hammond
Homesickness is a fact of life. It is human nature to pine for what is known and comfortable. And a stay at summer camp — even for a seasoned camper — can generate pangs of longing for the comforts of home: the family pet, mom, dad, even a sibling that isn’t favored when they are together.
At camp, we acknowledge homesickness as a valid emotion; we don’t diminish the feeling. We use our own experiences as former campers and adults away from home to help guide campers through those feelings of unease and discomfort. We help develop the skills to conquer pangs of emotion.
Successfully navigating a sleepaway camp experience requires preparation both on the part of the parent and the camper. The following tips are provided to help guide your camp preparations and ensure a camp experience that builds the skills to deal with setbacks such as homesickness, rather than one that is overshadowed by such emotions.
Prior to Camp
- Your research. Make sure that the camp you have selected is the right fit for your child. Talk to the camp staff and make sure you understand their communication policies. You need to know what you can expect as a parent and make sure you are okay with what the camp will provide. (see More Thoughts below and feel free to contact me with any questions/concerns.)
- Talk positively about the camp experience. Let your child know they are going to have an amazing time at camp and make some wonderful new friends, while trying exciting new activities.
- Provide opportunities for your child to practice being away from you. Sleep overs with friends and family can be a great stepping stone towards a longer sleep away experience.
- Provide opportunities for your child to practice making new friends. Set up play dates and other similar opportunities for your child to meet new friends and practice the skills needed to introduce themselves and play cooperatively.
- Visit the camp. Take advantage of open house events or set up a private tour so your child can become familiar with the camp facility and some of its staff. (NOTE: we are not currently offering this, however it is something we would consider in the future! Contact me if this is something you would like to do.)
- Talk negatively about the camp experience. Avoid saying things like “we will miss you so much,” “I don’t know what I’ll do without you” or “I’ll be counting down the days until you return.” Comments like these will cause your camper to feel guilty if they are enjoying their time at camp knowing that you are at home missing them.
- Offer a pick-up clause. If you are sending your child to camp with the phrase “give it a try and if you don’t like it, I’ll come and pick you up” – save yourself, the camp, and the child the time, effort, and energy and do not send the child to camp. If you make a pick-up clause with your child, you will inevitably be faced with the decision to either pick the child up and rob them of a valuable growing experience or break your promise and damage your credibility with your child. Neither of these outcomes are positive and both can be avoided by refraining from offering a pick-up clause in the first place.
- Promise that you will talk or write to your child every day. Most camps do not allow parents to speak to their child during their stay. Campers who are well adjusted and managing well at camp can be crippled by feelings of homesickness simply by hearing the voice of a well-intentioned mother or father. Unless you can guarantee you will write every day, don’t promise that you will. In the event that a letter or email does not arrive for whatever reason, feelings of worry and homesickness may set in. (See “More Thoughts” below on letters)
Write positive letters with encouragement. Let your child know you are proud of them for trying new activities and making new friends.(does not apply to our very short camps – see “More Thoughts” below)
- Contact the camp if you want an update or have any concerns. The camp staff if there to support the parents just as much as the campers. Camp staff will be happy to provide updates on how your child is adapting to camp and answer any questions you may have. See contact information below
- Trust that the camp is doing its job. If you did your research prior to registering for camp and made the decision to send your child to camp, trust that the camp always has your camper’s best interests in mind. Homesickness is not something that camps want, and they will be working with your camper to help them develop new skills and grow as a result of their experience.
- Remember that homesickness is normal. Everyone experiences homesickness to different degrees. If the camp informs you that your child is experiencing homesickness, it does not mean that you must immediately come to the rescue. Work with the camp staff and provide them with any information that you believe may help your child to overcome the challenges they are facing.
- Try to talk to your child. A big part of the growth you hope your child will experience as a result of their time at camp comes from allowing your child the space for growth to occur. Camp is not perfect — but there are opportunities each day to test, try, fall, get up, face, conquer, learn and grow.
- Write negative letters. Letting your child know that you miss them and cannot wait until they get home will only prolong and intensify any feelings of homesickness they may be experiencing. (See “More Thoughts below regarding letters)
- Visit the camp. While some camps have organized parent visiting days, others do not. Please do not arrive to camp unexpectedly and request to see your camper. While your child may be well adjusted, the sight of a parent with their child may trigger feelings of homesickness in other campers. Similarly, your presence may negatively affect your own child’s camp experience. You chose to send your child to camp so they may grow – it is up to you to give them the space for that growth to occur away from you.
Remember that by sending your child to sleepaway camp, you have given them an incredible opportunity to develop new skills and abilities which will serve them for the rest of their life. While you may not be present while these skills are being developed, you (as well as your camper) will certainly benefit from your child’s increased confidence, independence and ability to problem solve without your assistance
(End of Article)
Our camp is only 5 days, 4 nights, so some of what is mentioned in this article doesn’t apply – mail, for example. We don’t get mail or have campers write home because they would be home before it got there, most likely. The camp registration program we use, CampDoc, has a message service but we do not use it, again because of the short duration of our program – the students not getting messages could be negatively impacted, and not all parents have access to send them. But most of the article does apply and is very good advice.
One of the goals of the sleep-away camp experience for children is to gain more self-reliance, more confidence, and to feel comfortable and safe away from home. We ask that you not try to contact your child (they should not have phones at camp – no electronics allowed) or visit, because that can often have the unintended effect of making them very homesick when they were doing fine before.
If your child gets homesick, our goal will be to keep them engaged in activities, while honoring their feelings – it’s okay to feel that way, and part of growing up. The goal is to help them through their feelings of homesickness, which will lead to a sense of growth and pride for them. Often the kids who are the most homesick the first night or two are crying on the last day because they don’t want to leave! When campers are allowed to call home when they are homesick, that can backfire badly, making their homesick feelings much worse, and often being a cause for them not making it through the week of camp, missing out on so much fun and growth.
In the unusual case that a child is inconsolable, and is not getting past homesickness, or if it is very severe, we will contact you at that time, but most cases of homesickness are mild and pass fairly soon.
For contacting the camp, feel free to email me at any time – that is the best way I can be reached as the camp phone is in the office where I only go to check messages. Also, I don’t get cell service at camp, but we do have wifi for me to check email. My laptop is in my cabin, and my phone is in my pocket, and I will be checking for your messages!