It’s not uncommon for a first time camper to experience homesickness. Some campers may even have a mild case in their 2nd or 3rd year at camp. I can speak from experience having attended camp and gone through homesickness myself. My first year at camp I cried every night getting into a cold sleeping bag and wrote a letter every day that I wanted to come home! Luckily my parents knew enough not to pick me up early!
Not addressing homesickness can significantly affect important life-lessons and social skills. Preparing a child for camp and staying away from home will help them when leaving for college and gaining an independent life as they mature.
For every child, coping with homesickness will vary. There are several ways you can help prepare your children for a summer away from home:
- Let Them Choose Camp. By involving them in the camp selection process they’ll be more confident and excited to be there. It gives them a sense of control.
- Discuss What Homesickness Is. Tell your child how they might feel when not staying at home and let them know that it’s okay to have these feelings. At camp it’s most typical to get homesick at night. Encourage them to be open with their counselors if they are feeling sad or missing home.
- Practice Sleeping Away. A weekend with a friend or family member is a great way to introduce being away from home. Be sure to limit communication with your child. This will give them an idea of how it will be while they’re at camp. Spring Break and long weekends during the school year are perfect times to practice.
- Encourage New Friends. Many children will be scared of not knowing anyone at camp. Prior to camp encourage your child to make new friends. Some camps have a big brother/big sister program where they match a new camper with a returning one to be a buddy before and during camp.
- Send a Letter. It will be a great surprise and a reminder of home to send a letter that will be waiting for them when they arrive. Write frequently! Remember to be encouraging and let them know how proud you are of them for attending camp. Most importantly, remind them to enjoy the summer and have fun!
All camps have staff trained to help children cope with their homesickness and some children forget all about it within a few days. Typically, counselors will encourage campers to share reminders of home with each other. Talk to your camp’s director to find out how they specifically handle homesickness and include your child in that conversation too.
A great reminder for parents is to not express your own concern or anxiety about your child leaving for the summer. If they see your strength and confidence about how much fun they’ll have at camp, it will put them at ease.