For millions of children, youth and adults, summer camp is upon us. Camp is a unique environment that promotes growth and independence. For many families in today’s plugged-in society, camp is the first real separation they have experienced from their children – and their children’s first experience with homesickness.
Research indicates that homesickness is normal. It is common for campers to feel a tinge of homesickness at some point during the camp session.
So, how can parents help? The American Camp Association recommends the following do’s and don’ts families can use to help deal with homesickness:
DO encourage independence throughout the year. Practice separations, such as sleepovers at a friend’s house, can simulate the camp environment.
DO involve your child in the process of choosing a camp. The more that the child owns the decision, the more comfortable the child will feel being at camp.
DO understand the camp’s philosophy on how issues, like homesickness, are addressed. Talk candidly with the camp director to understand his/her perspective on your child’s adjustment.
DO discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom.
DO reach an agreement ahead of time on calling each other. If your child’s camp has a no-phone-calls policy, honor it.
DO send a note or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp. 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.”
DO pack a personal item from home such as a stuffed animal.
DO trust your instincts. While most incidents of homesickness will pass in a day or two, approximately 7 percent of the cases are severe. If your child is not eating or sleeping because of anxiety or depression, parents should work with the camp director and other camp staff to evaluate the situation.
DON’T bribe. Linking a successful stay at camp to a material object sends the wrong message. The reward should be your child’s new-found confidence and independence.
DON’T plan an exit strategy. If a “rescue call” comes from the child, offer calm reassurance and put the time frame into perspective.
DON’T feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. For many children, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in their growth and development.
DON’T make your children feel like failures if their stay at camp is cut short. Focus on the positive and encourage your child to try camp again next year.