Many children will experience homesickness at camp, even after they and their parents have chosen the right camp, discussed what to expect and practiced sleeping away.
According to psychologist Chris Thurber, “Homesickness is the norm, rather than the exception. A whopping 83 percent of the campers I studied reported homesickness on at least one day of camp.”
The following tips can help your child overcome homesickness if it strikes.
Don’t say “I miss you” too often.
Stephanie Wright, academy director at Delaware AeroSpace Education Foundation in Smyrna, DE, explains, “That statement can trigger homesickness. Statements like, ‘We are eager to hear about all that you are doing, your new friends, etc.,’” have a more positive effect.
“We ask the parents to say ‘I love you,’ rather than ‘I miss you,’ because when a child is having a hard time, a parent does not want to fuel the fire,” says Ari Segal, director of Camp Lee Mar in Lackawaxen, PA, which serves campers with special needs.
Segal adds that it’s great when parents talk to their child over the phone or through letters, but he cautions, “Don’t make the camper feel like he or she is missing out on anything at home, such as a vacation or visit to Grandma’s house.” When you explain what has been going on at home, use as few details as possible.
Don’t bribe your child to stay.
Instead, acknowledge her feelings and brainstorm ideas to tackle the problem. Jamie Wasserman, founder and director of Guru Travel, a service camp based in Sri Lanka, suggests parents share personal stories with their children about a time that they were homesick. “Sometimes adults get homesick on work trips when they are away from their family. They can talk about how they handle that,” says Wasserman.
Encourage your child to stay.
Even if he expresses a desire to come home, encourage your child to have fun and get in- volved because it is the best way to stop feeling homesick.
“I think the idea of dealing with homesickness comes down to how safe the individual feels both emotionally and physically,” says Rich Rupert, director of YMCA Camp Ockanickon in Medford, NJ. “Whether a person is 7 or 70, he has the possibility of being homesick. I feel that the best way to handle this is to make connections quickly, like through large group games and ice breakers. Another way to combat homesickness is to ensure the individual knows he has a voice in the experience so he is willing to speak up when he is not comfortable about a situation. Ensuring that what we do is intentional, inclusive and genuine goes a long way as well,” says Rupert.
In most cases homesickness goes away; however, trust your instincts on whether camp staff needs to be alerted or if you should bring your child home early. You can ask the camp staff for help or their opinion. They have plenty of experience dealing with homesickness and can help support children who struggle with it.
Wasserman and her staff have helped campers overcome their homesickness. She says, “We are in Sri Lanka, so if you are homesick you are very far away from home. We had a homesick girl one summer. We made sure she was always with the other kids and kept busy, and I told her that if she wanted to talk to her parents she could call them at 8pm. If she didn’t call, then she could wait till the next day. This gave her a goal to take one day at a time. Knowing the opportunity to speak to her parents was there gave her the comfort she needed. She never called home.”
Trianna Overton has a BA in public relations from Temple University and is an intern at MetroKids.