Homesickness is a natural part of youth development, especially for children who may be away from home for their first summer at camp.
For years, studies have shown that most children, spending at least two weeks away from home at summer camp, experience some form of homesickness. While this situation is usually mild, some campers may feel distress that can hinder or even bring to an end an otherwise positive camp experience. Fortunately, homesickness is something that campers can learn to cope with. The American Camp Association (ACA) offers the following advice on helping your child combat homesickness both before and after he or she has left for summer camp.
Positive camp preparation is vital. The best way to avoid homesickness at camp is to keep children excited about their camp experience from beginning to end. A child that participates in his or her camp decision-making process is likely to be more comfortable with the idea of spending time there. In addition, your attitude goes a long way. An optimistic parent will encourage his or her child to look forward to the camp experience. An anxious or nervous parent, on the other hand, will create similar feelings in his or her child; increasing the likelihood that child will develop homesickness.
ACA encourages parents to arrange for their children to have “practice time” being away from home, such as visiting friends or family overnight to allow them the experience of sleeping somewhere else. Additionally, resist the temptation to arrange a “pick-up deal” in case your child should want to leave after the camp session begins. While you may see this as a safety net, it actually encourages your child to leave rather than urging him or her to enjoy the experience.
What about a child who is dealing with homesickness after he or she has already arrived at camp? Most camps designate time for campers to call home, and even those who have a “no call” rule will allow campers and parents to correspond through letters. When communicating with your child, encourage him or her to stay positive and busy at camp. Remind kids that camp offers fun, physical activities that can surely take their mind off of home. It also provides a fantastic opportunity to make new friends and try new things they wouldn’t have if not for camp.
Resist the guilt
Above all, you should never feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. If you have lingering concerns about how your child is doing, don’t hesitate to reach out to camp staff to inquire about your child’s adjustment. The staff is trained to keep kids comfortable and involved, and a little extra attention from counselors may be all a child needs to feel more secure in their new environment.
Overcoming homesickness is one of the most powerful lessons a child can learn. Camp nurtures children’s independence and prepares them for the future. It can provide an amazing opportunity to experience personal growth. As a parent, it is up to you to foster this growth by encouraging your child to get the most of his or her camp experience.
The American Camp Association® (ACA) is a national organization; 10,000 members strong, that actively works with over 2,700 camps. ACA is committed to collaborating with those who believe in quality camp and outdoor experiences for children, youth and adults. ACA provides advocacy and evidence-based education and professional development, and is the only national accrediting body for the organized camp experience. For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org.