As summer begins, millions of children head to summer camp – eager, excited, and…homesick? Research indicates that homesickness is the norm, and not the exception. It is common for campers to feel a tinge of homesickness at some point during the camp session. So, how can parents help? By exercising a little preparation and patience, parents can help ease any homesickness in their otherwise happy campers.
The American Camp Association® (ACA) recommends the following ten tips parents can use to help their child deal with homesickness at camp:
- Encourage your child’s independence throughout the year. Practice separations, such as sleepovers at a friend’s house, can simulate the camp environment.
- 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.
- Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom.
- Reach an agreement ahead of time on calling each other. If your child’s camp has a no-phone-calls policy, honor it.
- 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.”
- 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.
- Pack a personal item from home, such as a stuffed animal.
- Avoid the temptation to take the child home early. If a “rescue call” comes from the child, offer calm reassurance and put the time frame into perspective.
- Talk candidly with the camp director to obtain his/her perspective on your child’s adjustment.
- 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.
Most of all, parents should trust their 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. Remember, camp staff are trained to ease homesickness. However, don’t make your child feel like a failure if their stay at camp is cut short. Focus on the positive and encourage your child to try camp again next year.
For more information on homesickness, or expert advice on camp, visit www.CampParents.org. Parents can also receive updates and tips by following ACA on Twitter at twitter.com/ACACampParents.