As you prepare your camper for camp this summer, you may find that one of you is already worrying about homesickness.
I can sympathize. I pack up each year to spend 10 weeks at camp and even I miss things about home, like having my own bedroom without my kids sleeping in the same room with me – that’s tight quarters for two and a half months! 🙂
I also miss my comfy couch at the end of a long day and shopping at my favorite grocery store for everything I need! Of course, the love I have for my job and the joy I get from it far outweigh what I miss. And in the end, it’s a brief moment in time for me, just 10 weeks of the year.
For campers who come for 1, 3, or 6 weeks — and parents who are separated from your kids for that same time — homesickness (or missing your child), can feel like a very big thing.
You can be sure that other parents and kids feel the same way. Though it is a common concern, however, it’s often one where the WORRY about homesickness is almost always greater than the actual incidence of homesickness here at camp (most campers adjust easily and quickly to camp and their experience goes swimmingly!).
We All Feel It
Missing home is universal — everyone misses something when they’re away from home. True homesickness that really impacts the camper’s experience is quite rare at camp, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t address the possibility of homesickness.
I’m a parent, too, and I get it! My young son goes to sleepaway camp, too, so I think about what to do for him — and me — as well. He expressed fears about going to camp even though he’s highly familiar with our camp. He even wanted to not go back a second summer due to some concerns. I wrote about this on my blog and about why him going back was actually the best decision after working through the issues with him.
As for me, you can be sure that I had a bevy of questions for his camp as he went off for the first time. And just like you, I missed him!
So based on my life as a camp director and my experience as a camp parent, I’ve learned that our strongest parental tool for coping with the possibility of homesickness is being prepared. Which is why I invite you to explore some do’s and don’ts on the psychology of getting ready for camp — and for being apart from each other — with me.
- DON’T: Express worry yourself — kids pick up on your fears or anxieties and then take them on themselves.
- DON’T: Make a “Pick Up Deal” — never promise that escaping camp is just a phone call away.
- DON’T: Bribe them to go to camp — camp is the reward. Bribing them makes camp seem like something to dread.
- DO: Express optimism — camp WILL be fun, exciting, and interesting!
- DO: Express confidence — you chose camp for your daughter for its excellent counselors who are eager to spend time with her and teach her new things!
- DO: Answer her questions about homesickness honestly — yes, sometimes missing home or another emotional challenge will happen and that’s a natural part of learning and growing.
- DO: Share your own camp experience or a positive anecdote about the first time you did something away from home and family.
- DO: Share your own excitement about her going to camp. For example: “You’re going to have a great time at camp, and I’m going to have a great time, too! We’re going to do XYZ while you’re gone and I’m excited about it. Let’s plan a pizza night for afterward just to share stories when we all get back!”
NET-NET: A great parenting tool
In the camp world the parent preparation skill we encourage is called NET-NET (thanks to camp guru Dr. Chris Thurber!). It’s a simple, double-duty acronym for helping you and your child to get ready for camp.
On the DON’T NET side you:
Teamwork, not trauma — work together for a positive outcome.
On the DO NET side you:
Empathize — feelings are real, and let’s keep them in perspective.
Teach coping skills — encourage letter writing, deep breathing, self-encouragement — “I can do it!”
On our parenting resources page you can see more tips on homesickness if you want to explore this topic more. For example:
- Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow by Michael Thompson
- American Camp Association article with Dr. Christopher Thurber on homesickness
- Chris Thurber’s video How to have the most fun with the least homesickness (go to 14:35 for tips on homesickness).
- My blog posts on homesickness
- A Mini Camp Podcast that touches on homesickness
I hope you find this helpful and as always, please call* or e-mail with any questions or concerns!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls