Handling Homesickness at Summer Camp
Homesickness is a common condition that is a developmental phase experienced by many children. In fact, some studies have found up to 80% of children attending summer camp experience some level of homesickness. Fortunately, in our experience with thousands of children, only a very small percentage have such severe homesickness that they cut their camp stay short.
The good news is that homesickness can be eliminated or reduced by proper preparation and by taking the right approach to address any homesickness at camp.
The first step is to prepare your child. Having 2 or 3 successful sleepovers at friends or relatives is a good start.
Next, involve your child in selecting the summer camp that best fits for your child. Ask your child what activities he or she is most interested in and go over in detail what to expect at camp. Anxiety is often the result of fearing the unknown. Going over the day's schedule, all the activities, and the role of the summer camp counselor will go a long way to easing a fear of the unknown. And getting your child to help select the camp that's the best fit for your child will help your child buy into the notion of going to camp.
Then there are a few things you can avoid that, while well-intentioned, tend to undermine a successful experience.
Avoid making a "pick-up deal." That's where you tell your child that if they get homesick you'll come and pick them up. This tends to undermine their resolve and actually makes it more difficult for them. Rather, express your confidence that they'll have a great time, with lots of fun activities and that they'll make new friends.
And while your child is at camp, avoid the temptation to call your child. You can always call the office and ask to talk to a director or your child's counselor to see how your child is doing. Children often experience separation anxiety all over again after talking with a parent, actually making their homesickness worse. But this is not universal and you can always talk to a director to get their insight whether or not this may apply to your child.
Handling Homesickness at Camp
The first step we take is to train our staff to recognize homesickness. Our staff will talk to your camper to gauge how he or she is feeling and the degree of homesickness. Homesickness typically is most acute during quiet times, such as during rest period and bed time. It commonly manifests itself, in addition to a plain confession of homesickness, to complaints of a upset stomach or of not having any fun notwithstanding smiles, laughs, and apparent good-times during activities. These are often used by children to justify going home.
We'll talk to your child about his or her homesickness -- what they miss about home -- so that they feel heard. Then we'll also focus your child on the many fun activities yet to do at camp and keep him or her busy. We'll also call you to keep you informed and whether we think talking with your child would help. Fortunately, most homesickness passes in a couple of days.
If your child has homesickness that lasts more than about 3 or 4 days, we'll call you to discuss further options, including whether going home is best for your child.