Homesickness is a fact of life. It is human nature to pine for what is known and comfortable. And a stay at summer camp — even for a seasoned camper — can generate pangs of longing for the comforts of home: the family pet, mom, dad, even a sibling that isn’t favored when they are together.
At camp, we acknowledge homesickness as a valid emotion; we don’t diminish the feeling. We use our own experiences as former campers and adults away from home to help guide campers through those feelings of unease and discomfort. We help develop the skills to conquer pangs of emotion.
Successfully navigating a sleepaway camp experience requires preparation both on the part of the parent and the camper. The following tips are provided to help guide your camp preparations and ensure a camp experience that builds the skills to deal with setbacks such as homesickness, rather than one that is overshadowed by such emotions.
Prior to Camp
- Your research. Make sure that the camp you have selected is the right fit for your child. Talk to the camp staff and make sure you understand their communication policies. You need to know what you can expect as a parent and make sure you are okay with what the camp will provide.
- Talk positively about the camp experience. Let your child know they are going to have an amazing time at camp and make some wonderful new friends, while trying exciting new activities.
- Provide opportunities for your child to practice being away from you. Sleep overs with friends and family can be a great stepping stone towards a longer sleep away experience.
- Provide opportunities for your child to practice making new friends. Set up play dates and other similar opportunities for your child to meet new friends and practice the skills needed to introduce themselves and play cooperatively.
- Visit the camp. Take advantage of open house events or set up a private tour so your child can become familiar with the camp facility and some of its staff.
- Talk negatively about the camp experience. Avoid saying things like “we will miss you so much,” “I don’t know what I’ll do without you” or “I’ll be counting down the days until you return.” Comments like these will cause your camper to feel guilty if they are enjoying their time at camp knowing that you are at home missing them.
- Offer a pick-up clause. If you are sending your child to camp with the phrase “give it a try and if you don't like it, I’ll come and pick you up” – save yourself, the camp, and the child the time, effort, and energy and do not send the child to camp. If you make a pick-up clause with your child, you will inevitably be faced with the decision to either pick the child up and rob them of a valuable growing experience or break your promise and damage your credibility with your child. Neither of these outcomes are positive and both can be avoided by refraining from offering a pick-up clause in the first place.
- Promise that you will talk or write to your child every day. Most camps do not allow parents to speak to their child during their stay. Campers who are well adjusted and managing well at camp can be crippled by feelings of homesickness simply by hearing the voice of a well-intentioned mother or father. Unless you can guarantee you will write every day, don't promise that you will. In the event that a letter or email does not arrive for whatever reason, feelings of worry and homesickness may set in.
- Write positive letters with encouragement. Let your child know you are proud of them for trying new activities and making new friends.
- Contact the camp if you want an update or have any concerns. The camp staff if there to support the parents just as much as the campers. Camp staff will be happy to provide updates on how your child is adapting to camp and answer any questions you may have.
- Trust that the camp is doing its job. If you did your research prior to registering for camp and made the decision to send your child to camp, trust that the camp always has your camper’s best interests in mind. Homesickness is not something that camps want, and they will be working with your camper to help them develop new skills and grow as a result of their experience.
- Remember that homesickness is normal. Everyone experiences homesickness to different degrees. If the camp informs you that your child is experiencing homesickness, it does not mean that you must immediately come to the rescue. Work with the camp staff and provide them with any information that you believe may help your child to overcome the challenges they are facing.
- Try to talk to your child. A big part of the growth you hope your child will experience as a result of their time at camp comes from allowing your child the space for growth to occur. Camp is not perfect — but there are opportunities each day to test, try, fall, get up, face, conquer, learn and grow.
- Write negative letters. Letting your child know that you miss them and cannot wait until they get home will only prolong and intensify any feelings of homesickness they may be experiencing.
- Visit the camp. While some camps have organized parent visiting days, others do not. Please do not arrive to camp unexpectedly and request to see your camper. While your child may be well adjusted, the sight of a parent with their child may trigger feelings of homesickness in other campers. Similarly, your presence may negatively affect your own child’s camp experience. You chose to send your child to camp so they may grow – it is up to you to give them the space for that growth to occur away from you.
Remember that by sending your child to sleepaway camp, you have given them an incredible opportunity to develop new skills and abilities which will serve them for the rest of their life. While you may not be present while these skills are being developed, you (as well as your camper) will certainly benefit from your child’s increased confidence, independence and ability to problem solve without your assistance.
Daniel Hammond is the director of Pali Adventures, offering 21 specialties and over 70 electives kids can choose from in Running Springs, California. Pali is different from other specialty camps because their specialties are so accessible. The programs are encouraging and supportive of all ability levels. They love to see campers explore activities they have only dreamed about; Pali tailors an experience to each camper. Specialties are loosely grouped into four broad categories — Adventure, Creativity, Performance, and Leadership. https://paliadventures.com
Photo courtesy of Pali Adventures