Preventing homesickness at summer camp
Your kids are off to camp or a summer program. While you want them to be happy, there are times they may not be. Your child tells you he or she is unhappy. Our first inclination is to intervene! Being a good parent requires not only being there for your children, but also knowing when and how to let go.
This separation can be very difficult and uncomfortable for both parent and child. It is very important to acknowledge the feelings of both, learn how to manage them, and recognize the benefits that will result from this new experience. In our third installment of Camp Chatter, summer expert Jill Tipograph gives tips on helping your child cope with homesickness while at camp. Helping our kids develop their own coping mechanisms gives them strength and empowerment that they can get through emotional times.
Preparing your child, pre-camp
There are things you can do to prepare your child for a happy camp experience before camp starts.
Homesickness is normal
Let him/her know before boarding the bus to camp or travel to a teen summer program that he/she may experience homesickness, especially during family routine times (e.g. meals and bed time) as well as down time (e.g. rest hour), and that this is normal.
Stick it out
DON'T say to them that you will come and bring them home if things don't work out or they miss you too much – this will undermine their confidence in succeeding at camp and the resolve to "stick it out" once you commit to something.
Talk to counselors
Be aware that "homesickness assistance" is part of the camp staff training; prompt your child to share his/her feelings with the counselors, who will be very supportive of these real feelings.
Keep a diary
Encourage your child to keep a diary in which to record his/her feelings on a daily basis. It will provide your child with a written journey of self-growth in seeing himself/herself change, cope, and become more independent and mature as days go by. It will be a treasured possession in his/her adulthood; something to turn to even as a young adult when going off to college.
Pet an animal
If your child loves animals, find out in advance if there are any at camp that he/she will be able to pet. Animals prove to be a calming and nurturing connection for kids and teens feeling homesick.
Read a book
Young children may find this homesickness book a positive read pre-camp, or even during the first few days or weeks of camp: Bug Bites and Camp Fires, by Dr. Frank J. Sileo, a licensed psychologist.
Personalize dorm space
Make sure your child has items to personalize his/her bunk or dorm space. It will make it seem more like home; be sure to check camp policies regarding permissible items to bring from home (favorite blanket, small rug, etc.) plus photos of family, including the dog, and any other treasured possession like a stuffed animal!
Prepare yourself by turning to your support group of friends and family to discuss your own separation anxiety and feelings of sadness once your child has left.