Tips for combating homesickness at camp
The first time away from home can be scary for any child. Sleeping in a different bed, eating different food and going without the usual conveniences of home takes some getting used to.
It’s normal for kids to feel homesick when they’re going to summer camp, especially if it’s the first time. It’s also normal for parents to worry about their kids while they’re away. Here are some steps families can take to prevent homesickness:
Talk about the exciting new experiences your child will have at camp. If your child has a sibling who’s been to camp, ask them to share their best memories. Describe potential challenges in a positive way.
Have your child stay overnight at a relative or friend’s house before camp starts to get used to the idea of being away from home. Also, help your child prepare by having them practice using camp equipment like a flashlight, or let them pack their suitcase or backpack.
Let your child know that missing home is okay. Reassure your child that it’s ok to miss home, and that other kids and adults feel the same way sometimes. Let them know that they can still have fun though, even if they are sad.
Don't feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. Camp helps kids develop independence. Let your child know you are proud of them, and that being at camp is a part of growing up.
Don’t make promises or bribes
Avoid the temptation to take your child home early if they are homesick. Try to be reassuring first. Don’t offer material objects in exchange for staying at camp. Also, don’t promise that you’ll come for your child if they are feeling homesick. Instead, help make a plan for what to do if this happens, such as who they can talk to or how to send letters.
Pack personal items
Items from home like a stuffed animal or favorite toy could help comfort campers.
Campers like to get letters and packages, but be wary of what you’re sending. “One of the hardest things for a homesick camper is to receive pictures of family and pets. It can make them more homesick,” says Marc Koch, senior director at Fairview Lake YMCA Camps. “It is best for parents to write letters of encouragement, letting campers know how proud of them they are, and ask for letters in return, letting them know of all the fun things they are doing in camp.”
He suggests that parents send items like games, puzzles, books and stuffed animals.
It helps to alert camp staff to any life events or trauma, such as divorce or a death in the family, so they can better prepare to support your child if they become homesick. Also, let the staff know if your child will celebrate a birthday or other milestone at camp. Doing something special for the camper might help cheer them up or take their mind off the fact that they’re not at home celebrating with family.
Know your camp’s policy on cell phones and other electronic communication ahead of time and honor it. Make sure your child knows about it as well. Find other ways to learn how your child is adjusting and to see what they’re doing. Talk to staff and sign up for emails and social media pages that your camp might use to communicate with parents.
Go with your gut
While most incidents of homesickness will pass in a day or two, research shows that about 7 percent of the cases are severe. If your child is not eating or sleeping, then it’s time to go home. However, don’t make your child feel like a failure because they didn’t stay at camp. Focus on the positive and encourage your child to try camp again next year.
Trust the camp
Camp directors and counselors are there to make sure your child has a great time. Don’t be afraid to ask what they will do if they sense homesickness in campers. Since many of the staff have been campers themselves, they know the signs and work to prevent homesickness from the first day of camp.
Explore Fairview Lake YMCA summer camps at fairviewlakeymca.org.