Based on article by Daniel Hammond. Read the full article here.
Homesickness is a fact of life. 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 understand that homesickness as a valid emotion, but we use our own experiences as former campers and adults away from home to help guide campers through those feelings of unease and discomfort.
When we’re armed with knowledge, we as camp professionals and parents can work to prevent predictable emotional triggers to ensure that the camper has the best time they can possibly have.
One way to be better prepared for the summer ahead is to sign your family up for Prep4Camp. This innovative online program for families includes a video for parents and kids to watch together, a PDF tip-sheet for kids, and a podcast for parents to listen to in the car after opening day drop-off! The program is developed by clinical child psychologists like Dr. Chris Thurber who co-authored, with Dr. Jon Malinowski, of the best-selling Summer Camp Handbook and the host of ACA’s homesickness prevention program, entitled The Secret Ingredients of Summer Camp Success. According to Dr. Thurber, using this program as directed lowers the intensity of first-year campers’ homesickness by 50%, on average. Learn more about this comprehensive program here!
Successfully navigating a sleepaway camp experience requires preparation both on the part of the parent and the camper. Here are some tips to help guide your camp preparations and ensure an awesome camp experience!
Prior to Camp…
- Talk negatively about camp. 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 make different summer plans until you’re both ready to try 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.
- Promise that you will talk or write to your child every day. 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 parent, so for this reason most camps won’t let campers call home. 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. That being said, some camps will offer parents and friends the opportunity to email letters to campers that will be delivered every day like physical mail! Learn more about sending mail & care packages at Appel Farm here.
- Your research. Make sure that the camp you have selected is the right fit for your child.
- Visit the camp. Come see what camp is all about on the property, and help your camper get to know the place they will be for a couple of weeks. Getting to meet staff and see where they’ll be living can help combat anxiety of the unknown.
- Talk positively about camp. 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 home. Sleepovers 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.
- 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. You will be surprised by the independence they foster while they are away!
- 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 outside of Visiting Day. 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. Let them be excited to see you when they come back at the end of their session!
- 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 are 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. At Appel Farm, new parents can expect a phone call from their camper’s Bunk Head about how their child is doing within the first three days of camp!
- 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. We will be working with your camper to help them develop new skills and grow as a result of their emotions.
- 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.
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.