For the most part, kids who come to summer camp adjust within a few days and overcome sad feelings of missing home. But there are some campers for whom the intensity of the homesickness is much stronger, and the discomfort lasts longer. For these kids, it can be extremely hard as a parent to know what to say or do. When your kid is pleading with you to let him/her come home, it’s very difficult not to just jump in your car and come rescue them. But I don’t think that’s the best choice, and neither does Michael Thompson, Ph.D., author of Homesick and Happy.
Over my 30 years at camp, I’ve counseled a lot of homesick kids and distraught parents. Some of these kids have gone home early from camp. Most have stayed and worked through their homesickness and felt much better by about the third or fourth day of camp. The severity of the homesickness was the same, and the only difference between the ones who went home and the ones who stayed was how the parents handled their child’s homesickness. I thought it might be worth sharing the positive messages I’ve heard these parents give (whether by letter, email, or phone) that have helped kids overcome their homesickness and end up having fun at camp.
Even though you don’t feel like you can do this, I know you can. I have confidence in you and know that you will face this challenge and do great at camp.
I know you feel miserable right now and I’m so sad that this is so hard for you, but I am not coming to pick you up early. You are staying at camp.
Nothing exciting is going on at home. In fact, it’s boring here. Camp is a much better place for you to be this week because….the house is getting exterminated, I’m going to a work conference, all I’m doing is cleaning out closets.
Even though these first days of camp have seemed long, the days will start feeling much faster once you’ve settled in and adjusted to camp. The more you participate and get involved, the better you will feel.
Overcoming this homesickness is hard, but I know you can master these feelings. And then you’ll feel better about future adventures – like school trips, college, etc.
I love you so much and I want what’s best for you. This camp experience, even with its challenges, is an experience I know will be good for you and your growth. Even though it’s painful right now, I know that you are growing and maturing because of it, and I’m really proud of you.
At our camp, we don’t allow phone calls, but I know at many programs campers are calling their parents on the phone, crying and pleading to come get them. As a parent, it’s extremely difficult to handle that much strong, negative emotion coming from your child. I recommend limiting phone calls (if they are allowed) so that your child isn’t spending their day focused on their next call to you. From my experience, hearing a parent’s voice makes the homesick emotions even stronger.
One of the most homesick campers I counseled this summer told me, through many sobs over the first few days of camp, that she “couldn’t make it” through to the end and that she just wasn’t “a camp type of person.” She was adamant about telling me and her parents that she was “not ready” for a camp experience.
Two weeks later, she went home “elated and proud of herself,” according to her mom. This same camper, who at first was one of the most homesick campers I’ve worked with this summer, made such a turn-around that she wants to return to camp next summer! She also seems, according to her parents, like a happier person than the one they sent to camp. These parents made the right decision in standing firm on their “no pick up” rule and in their confidence that their daughter could meet the challenge of being away from home for the first time.
Homesick and Happy, by Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Homesickness Help (Sunshine Parenting)
“Kidsickness:” Help for First Time Camp Parents (Sunshine Parenting)
Messages for an Anxious Camper (Sunshine Parenting)
Secondary Homesickness: When Your Camper doesn’t want to go Back to Camp (Sunshine Parenting)
Summer Camp (Sunshine Parenting)
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