Toasting marshmallows over a crackling campfire, learning new skills, swimming, exploring nature, and hiking are many of the things kids look forward to about going to summer camp. The memories which last a lifetime can easily be tainted when homesickness sets in. Thinking positive and distracting campers with fun activities are two strategies that work in curing those pesky summer camp blues. Here are a few others.
The American Psychological Association research shows that older children often get less homesick than younger ones. This may be due to having had more experiences away from the home and, therefore, more practice coping with the summertime blues. When kids have strategies for reframing time and know how to change sad feelings to happy, according to the APA, they know how to beat the homesickness that can come with the experience of sleep away camp.
Relax! It’s normal.
According to Dr. Christopher Thurber, co-author of The Summer Camp Handbook: Everything you need to find, choose and get ready for overnight camp and skip the homesickness, over 95% of kids will experience homesickness at camp. While almost all kids feel some form of homesickness, many children experience such distress from homesickness that it impedes their camp activities significantly. Fortunately, there are many things kids and parent can do to minimize that homesick feeling so that it does not interfere with the fresh-air outdoor experience that sleep away camp provides.
Strategies that work
Beating homesickness is easy with the right strategies that work. Homesickness is not necessarily a bad thing; it simply means that your child loves their home and their family. Here are some of the key strategies that work to beat homesickness:
- Talk about it – No child should be forced to attend camp, but by talking about it together, parents may be able to convince a reluctant child to attend camp by getting any concerns out in the open. Everyone may feel a little apprehensive about what will happen when the child is away at camp. Talking about it as a family helps. Another great resource is to ask a child who has already attended camp to talk about it as well.
- Include kids in the decision making – Kids as young as 7 years old can enjoy sleep away camp. However, if any kid feels forced to go to camp, they may be more likely to feel homesick. Listen to your child to determine if they are ready for camp. Once a child initiates the camp experience by showing interest, it is easy and fun to include them in choosing the location, type of camp, and length of stay.
- Practice makes perfect – If your child has not spent much time away from home, it may be a good idea to arrange a few practice visits to a friend or relative’s home. You can easily simulate the camp experience by writing letters instead of talking or texting on the phone. When the visit is over, discuss what coping strategies worked for making the time away a success.
Kids are not the only family members who will experience some separation anxiety – parents do, too. When you are helping your child address their homesickness concerns, it is also a good idea to contemplate how the adults will cope with any childsickness. Address any concerns you may have by writing them down and discussing them with the camp director. If you are feeling uneasy about your child being away, find some other camp parents to talk about it with.
Staying in Touch
Most sleep away camps do not allow phone calls, so staying in touch by writing letters is a grand idea. Just don’t be discouraged if you do not receive many letters back. Campers will, hopefully, be so busy having fun and getting fresh air that they may not have time to write. One experienced camp mom has found that sending letters before a child leaves for camp, so that the letters arrive on the first day, is a great way to communicate. Another camp parent hides encouraging notes in his daughter’s suitcase, soapdish, and socks to find. Just be sure that the tone of the letter is upbeat, chatty, and encouraging.
If you do ever receive a homesick letter, bear in mind that it may be a few days old. If the camp hasn’t given you a phone call, your child may have found strategies to work through the homesickness and is now having fun. There are, of course, rare instances when a shortened stay is the right solution. If a child has to leave camp earlier, be sure to frame it as a success experience. Many kids who leave camp early one year will often return happily to camp the following year.
Kids have the opportunity to increase self-confidence, make new friends, develop empathy, and learn many new skills at camp. Dr. Renee knows that when families help prepare for camp psychologically, the experience is happier and more successful for everybody. In addition to getting all the right camp equipment like bug spray, sleeping bag, and extra socks; helping kids prepare psychologically is an important part of the whole camp experience. Beating the summer camp blues is easy with healthy family communication and preparation.