Most campers, including first-time campers and those who have been going to camp for years, experience homesickness at one time or another. It is normal, especially for young children away from home for the first time to be homesick at first. Preparing for camp ahead of time can greatly reduce homesickness. Here are some tips:
- Involve your child in the decision to attend camp. Read through the brochure together and choose a session and program that he or she is interested in. Choose a shorter session for your child’s first overnight camp experience.
- Discuss what camp will be like. If possible, attend one of the Open Houses so your child can see what camp looks like.
- Encourage independence throughout the year. Sleepovers at friends’ houses or 2-3 nights at a relative’s house without parents can be good preparation for camp.
- Send an encouraging letter ahead of time that will be delivered on the first day of camp. It’s okay to say that you’ll miss them, but keep the focus positive – “I will miss you, but I know how much fun you’ll have at camp.”
- Encourage your child to talk to his or her counselor if feeling homesick. Let your child know that there are lots of friendly adults to talk to if needed.
- Don’t make any promises or “deals” about phone calls or picking kids up – this makes it very hard for kids to focus on having fun.
- Phone calls home usually increase homesickness. Camp staff are experienced in helping children deal with homesickness, and will help a parent judge when a phone call home is needed. Try not to feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp.
- Tears are normal. Many kids feel most homesick during rest hour or bedtime. Encourage your child to read a book or write a letter home during those times or pack an item from home, such as a stuffed animal.
- When is it time to go home? In most cases, homesickness will ease up after a couple of days. If the child is not eating or sleeping, or is anxious most of the time, it may be better for him or her to go home. Don’t make it seem like a failure – you can try again next year after gaining a bit more independence.
This is normal, too! Parents sending their child away for the first time often miss their children more than they expect. Avoid the temptation to call and check in on your child – although it’s okay to do that. Camp staff are vigilant about health care, behavior and homesickness with children, and we’ll let you know if anything is wrong.