According to author and psychologist Michael Thompson, PhD, 97 percent of children experience at least some occasional homesick feelings at camp. Considering that statistic, you’ll probably have at least a few campers who experience some level of homesickness this summer. As their counselor — their first line of communication and comfort — do you know what to say and do?
Selected Tips for Handling Campers’ Homesickness
1. Early on, introduce campers to older campers who were once in their shoes.
“One thing that helped me was bringing me to visit older campers in their bunks,” said David. The older campers welcomed David and shared personal memories of their first days many years ago. In their unpacking, they also showed a glimpse of a teenage world to which most ten-year-old boys aspire. When companies market products to children, they often will show children and teens several years older than the actual target audience. These older campers then recognized and said hello to David (at the waterfront, walking to meals, etc.) during the first crucial days of camp — building his self-confidence and feelings of importance.
From “Opening Day Blues” by David Fleischner
2. Ask campers how they’re doing, and really listen to their answer. Let them know it’s okay to miss home.
A quick check-in helps most campers with mild homesickness, and sometimes a group discussion can do the trick: a group conversation at bedtime, for example. One counselor said that when her whole group of girls was showing signs of homesickness, she had them all describe their bedrooms to each other and to her, in minute detail. She also described her own room at home. The girls felt enormously comforted by the extended opportunity to share these details of home. Other counselors, usually young men, tell me that they had the whole group describe their favorite meals.
From “What Camp Staff Can Do to Help Children: An Excerpt from Homesick and Happy” by Michael G. Thompson, PhD
3. Distract campers with all the fun activities at camp.
Remember the special things that only happen at CAMP — Distract. Distract. Distract. Find ways to keep campers busy with activities to take their minds off what is bothering them.
From “Top Ten Ways to Prevent/Treat Homesickness” by Paul Denowski, Rob Grierson, and Tony Oyenarte
"Camp is like life," my counselor told me the summer I was homesick. "The more you get involved, the more you'll get out of it."
So what did I do? I got involved.
. . . And eventually, you realize that the saddest part isn't being homesick at the beginning, but not wanting to leave at the end.
From “A Place to Share: Life at Camp” by Neal Levin
Photo courtesy of Camp Foster YMCA of the Okobojis in Spirit Lake, Iowa.