As a kid, whenever I got homesick, my counselor would kneel by my bed and look me in the eye, very seriously, and say: “Whatever you do, DO NOT SMILE.” It was a ploy to get me to laugh. Instead, it made me want to sock her in the teeth.
Camp can be magical: shaving parties, first crushes, unrelenting amounts of potato chips. But the other reality is that it can be really hard and really lonely. Homesickness is real, but not surmountable.
We reached out to camp professionals from some of the hottest sleep-away camps in the country to give us tips that won’t make your kids roll their eyes.
Consider the Past
“I usually ask parents if there were any strategies that worked when their child was transitioning to kindergarten or preschool (matching bracelets, a special handshake, etc.) that might be able to be adjusted for use in a sleepaway setting. That way campers are building on coping skills they have already developed, rather than trying a whole new strategy,” Adah Murray, Camper Specialist at Camp Manitou.
Get Real When Planning
“Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom,” The American Camp Association. Other experts agree that being specific about concerns, and solutions, can really help. “Just like talking to kids about drugs or sex does not make it more likely for your children to engage in these (in fact, research suggests the opposite effect), talking about homesickness and labeling that feeling of missing home simply gives children a language to talk about their emotions,” Dr. Robyn Silverman says. “When we help kids talk out their feelings, it can help them cope in healthy ways.”
Make Things Visual
“I have found a lot of success with calendars: a printed-out paper calendar with key dates (visiting day, the start of camp, end of camp, birthday. etc.) that the camper keeps by his or her bed. They can cross off the days with their counselor each night or write a favorite activity for the day to share with parents after camp,” Adah Murray, Camper Specialist at Camp Manitou.
Permit Dueling Truths
“Remind yourself and your child that it is perfectly normal and okay to simultaneously love camp AND miss home – it doesn’t have to be one or the other,” Emily Courtiss, Director/Owner of Camp Vega.
Never Make a Pick-Up-Deal
If there’s one resounding “do not do” of battling homesickness, it would be to not make a pick-up-deal. “Never ever say, “If you feel homesick, I’ll come and get you,” the ACA warns. “This conveys a message of doubt and pity that undermines children’s confidence and independence. Pick-Up Deals become mental crutches and self-fulfilling prophecies for children as soon as they arrive at camp.”