Helping with Homesickness
What is it?
Homesickness is the natural result of separating from home and loved ones. In a recent study, nearly 96 percent of all boys and girls who were spending two weeks or more at overnight camp reported some homesickness on at least one day. Almost all children (and grown-ups!) feel homesick when they’re away from home. People’s feelings simply vary in intensity.
What causes it?
There are several factors that put children at greater risk for becoming homesick. For example, children with little previous experience away from home, children who have low expectations of camp, children who feel forced to go to camp, children who are unsure whether adults will help them if they need help, children who have little practice coping with negative emotions, and children whose parents express a lot of anxiety are most likely to feel homesick.
Some factors have nothing to do with the intensity of homesickness. These include geographic distance between home and camp and the presence of a friend from home at camp.
When is it a problem?
Most feelings of homesickness are not problematic. In fact, missing home isn’t a problem until it becomes a preoccupation. When the feelings of sadness and anxiety associated with missing home become so strong that making friends, having fun, sleeping, eating, and participating in activities is difficult, something must be done.
What can be done?
It used to be thought that feelings of missing home disappeared spontaneously after a few days at camp. Although this is true for some cases of mild homesickness, research has demonstrated that if left unchecked, homesickness can intensify over time. The best remedy is a two-pronged approach:
(1) Prevent homesickness at home, before it starts; and (2) Actively cope at camp, if natural feelings of homesickness reach problematic levels.
The best at-home prevention strategies include: working together as a family to select a camp; plan spending practice time away from home, such as a long weekend at a friend’s house. Experimenting with the best coping strategies during this practice separation preparing pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes to bring to camp.
The best in-camp interventions for homesick campers include: staying busy, talking with someone, remembering that you’re not at camp for your whole life—just a few weeks writing letters home remembering all the fun activities that camp offers…and doing them!
Helping Your Child Cope at Camp
Following are some tips from the American Camp Association to consider before your child leaves for camp:
• If possible, visit the camp ahead of time so that your child will be familiar with the cabins and other general surroundings
• Consider arranging for a first-time camper to attend with a close friend, relative, or camp “buddy”
• Discuss what camp will be like well before your child leaves, acknowledging feelings; consider role-playing anticipated camp situations such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom
• Send a letter to your child before camp begins so he/she will have a letter waiting for his/her arrival
• Allow your child to pack a favorite stuffed animal and/or picture so that your child will have a reminder of home
• If adjustment problems (such as homesickness) do occur while your child is at camp:
• Talk candidly with the camp director to obtain his/her perception of your child’s adjustment
• Acknowledge your child’s feelings and communicate your love. You might say, “If you still feel this way in two days, we’ll discuss what we can do.”
• Remind him/her, if necessary, that he/she has made a commitment
Trust your instincts: The occasional child who is truly not enjoying anything, having a miserable time and not adjusting to camp life at all should be allowed to return home after a reasonable amount of time and effort.#
Reprinted with permission from the American Camp Association.