It’s been many years now, but I clearly remember going away for camp for the first time at age six. When the big day finally arrived, we piled everything into the car—and off we went. When getting ready for bed, I felt a pit in my stomach. I had never been away from home for longer than a night, and I realized I would be there for five in a row. I suddenly missed my family, my bed, and my dog. I was officially suffering from homesickness. Luckily, my mom had planned ahead. She had packed a bundle of letters in my suitcase—with one to open each night I was at camp. It was very reassuring, and it made it much easier to focus on having fun at camp.
Homesickness is a common problem for campers. For many, camp is the first or only time they are away from their family all year. And for their parents, a similar anxiety about that separation is just as common. If you’re sending a child to camp this year, we’ve put together a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind to help prepare for and counter homesickness.
● Talk about camp ahead of time with your child. If you’re not able to visit beforehand, look at pictures of camp. Discuss their activities and what each day will be like. Familiarity with the surroundings and activities is likely to curb the fear of the unknown that comes with homesickness.
● Always speak positively about the upcoming camp experience, and talk about all the fun and new activities your child will get to do at camp.
● Think about arranging for any first time campers to attend with a close friend or relative so they have a “camp buddy.” But if they can’t attend with a friend, don’t worry! They will make friends at camp too.
● Send a letter to camp in advance so your child will have a letter waiting when he/she arrives. (Or pack a bundle of letters in the suitcase, so they can have one to open each night before bed). Some camps let you drop off letters during check in for distribution with the regular mail at camp.
● Send some self-addressed stamped envelopes with your child—so that they can write to you about what they are doing at camp.
● Allow your child to pack a reminder of home—like a favorite photo, trinket, or stuffed animal.
● Ask about communication rules the camp has, and make a plan to communicate with your child according to those rules.
● Take steps to encourage your child’s independence throughout the year. If possible, arrange for a few “trial separations” (such as a sleepover or a weekend with relatives) so that being away at camp will not require as great an adjustment.
● Encourage your child to communicate with his/her counselor when he/she is homesick, so that they can try and work on it together.
● Bargain, bribe, or make a “pickup deal” to “rescue” your child from camp if he/she is homesick. This sends the wrong message and may prevent the opportunity for learning how to cope with homesickness and become more independent.
● Go into great detail about what’s going on at home, or how much their family, pets, etc. miss them. Try to remain positive by saying things like, “We miss you, but we know you’re having a great time at camp!”
● Worry (or at least try not to)! Camp staff are trained to help campers cope with homesickness, and camp is a great way for your child to build independence and develop social skills. Most camps will contact you if homesickness is severe. Check on the camp’s policy for handling homesickness.
Laura Johnson is Founder and CEO of Leadership Academy LLC. Laura is passionate about helping others find time to be outside and grow appreciation for nature and outdoor play. With this passion, Laura has spent her career as a professional Camp Director, operating summer camps and recreation facilities for over 16 years with Girl Scouts, YMCAs, and other non-profits. Her career focus is making a positive impact in the lives of children and young adults. Laura is a lover of the outdoors and is an avid hiker, sailor, paddler, and adventure-seeker in Nashville, Tennessee.