What can we do to help our kids overcome homesickness? Although there’s snow on the ground, the prospect of sleep-away camps is on the minds of many, since summer will be here in no time. For children who have never been away from home, preparation for sleep-away camp should begin early in the year.
My personal camp experience
My first exposure to the Mid-Hudson Valley came when I was 10 years old. I left the streets of the Bronx for a three week adventure at Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Spring. I noticed that some of the campers were sad and constantly calling home. At the time, it was difficult for me to understand homesickness, since I was having a great time.
Studies on homesickness
According to homesickness research, the children learned to cope after they developed an understanding of their new environment. They learned there were some aspects of camp life that they could control, such as how they spent their free time. Even the most well-adjusted child, can feel anxiety. It’s important to teach your kid that homesickness is normal. It usually passes when you’re doing something that you like.
READ MORE: 8 affordable ways to pay for camp
Tips on dealing with homesickness
- There are many tactics parents can take before camp begins, to help their child cope with home sickness. Send your child to sleepovers at a friend’s home or the grand-parents’ house, so they can get used to being away from home.
- Involve your child in choosing the camp. The more control your child has in the decision making process the more comfortable he or she will feel about staying. Don’t bribe your kid or make the child feel guilty about going to camp. These are the wrong messages to send.
- First time campers often do much better if they go with a friend. Interestingly, the intensity of this connection usually decreases as the camp session progresses. They make new friends.
- Help them pick “soothing” items from home such as stuffed animals, a blanket or a pillow. These items will act as objects of comfort at bedtime, which is generally when homesickness is at its worst.
- Don’t “rescue” children too quickly from their discomfort. Most kids feel pangs of discomfort, and they’ll say, “take me home, please”. Ask your child to stick it out for a few days, and see if he or she can make the transition.
- Be accessible. This is especially important for first time campers. Don’t go off to Europe. Your child’s anxiety may increase, if you seem completely inaccessible.
- Be careful of your own “childsickness”. Some parents miss their children too much and make them feel guilty about being away.
READ MORE: 10 terrific camps in the Hudson Valley
Should your child go away to camp?
Not all children are candidates for sleep-away camp. For some, a death in the family or divorce could make the prospect of leaving home more difficult. There are children who cannot handle being away from home and truly need to leave camp. If you have to take your children home, don’t make them feel guilty as though they failed.
To dwell on wasted energy and money only deprives them of their connection with you. They feel bad enough.
The benefits of camp
For most children, camp can be a learning experience and an opportunity to enhance intellectual, social, and physical skills. A child’s independence grows at times like these. In most cases, children will reflect back proudly on how they overcame their homesickness and persevered.
Paul Schwartz, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College. He is available for speaking engagements to parent groups. He has years of experience as a camper and a camp director.