Your child is off to sleepaway summer camps in California for the first time. They’re excited, but they’re also nervous, especially because they’ve never been away from you for an extended period before.
Like many parents, you’re worried about the effects of homesickness on your child.
The good news is that homesickness is a common experience, and like thousands of children before them, your child will learn to beat their homesickness and love their camp experience. It helps if they have the right tools–that’s where you come in. Here’s what you can do to prepare for homesickness in advance and address it when it arises.
Despite its name, homesickness isn’t necessarily about home. You’re not literally missing home–you’re missing the feelings and qualities associated with home, especially love, security, and protection.
These are all qualities that humans need to survive. We create it at home by creating familiar routines, cultivating relationships with familiar people, establishing a sense of normal within a social space. When we feel homesick, we’re noticing the absence of the normal and familiar and seeking to reestablish it, either by finding our old routines or by establishing new ones.
Like any other emotion, homesickness comes in waves. The problem is when children are caught off guard by it and are taught to think that it means something is wrong.
The key for children is to give them the tools to handle homesickness and not be caught off guard by it, especially when they’re removed from their normal family support system.
Kids are more adaptable and resilient than we expect. You may not need much time to prepare your child for homesickness, if at all.
The first step is to recognize your child’s emotions and encourage them to talk about them. If your child doesn’t bring up worries about homesickness, you don’t necessarily need to hammer it–many well-meaning parents create a homesickness problem where there was none in an effort to prepare their child.
If your child doesn’t bring it up, simply offer them some comfort tools and strategies that they can rely on if needed. If your child does bring it up, you can take a more direct approach.
The most important thing is to make a plan to help your child deal with homesickness.
This is especially important if your child is a new camper, even more so if they’re young. You’re preparing them to tackle a problem on their own, possibly for the first time.
The best way to approach this is by giving them strategies to handle situations.
For example, have them role-play with you so they can practice asking a counselor for help. Give them a collection of stamped and addressed envelopes so that they can send home a letter each week. Have them practice writing letters so that the action is familiar once they’re at camp.
One thing you should never do is make deals with your child as a coping strategy.
For example, you should not make a “pick-up plan” if your child becomes extremely homesick and wants to leave camp. This might seem like a useful security blanket, but it actually serves to undercut your child’s confidence in their ability to cope and learn to enjoy the experience.
You also shouldn’t attach material promises (i.e. bribes) to the camp experience, nor should you link reward to having a positive camp experience.
The first teaches children that the reward of camp is the material prize at the end, not the experience itself. The second teaches children that you’ll only be happy with them if they have a positive experience, which places pressure on them to avoid and demonize negative experiences, not understanding that all experiences have natural highs and lows.
Once your child is away at camp, your duties in addressing homesickness may not be over.
You’ve packed them off with a memento from home, practiced asking for help, and given them tools to reach out to home. Ideally, your child won’t have homesickness at all and will be too busy having fun–this is the case for many campers.
But some kids struggle to adjust, and that’s alright too. The key is knowing how to address homesickness when your child reaches out.
If your child expresses homesickness or anxiety in their letters the most important thing for parents is to give encouraging responses.
Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. Help them to put the positive aspects of camp into perspective, ask about their new camp friends, ask about activities they were excited to try when they left home.
If a rescue call comes, offer calm reassurance and put the timeframe into perspective. This can feel like a long time for an anxious child, so you have to break it down into manageable parts and remind them of the positive aspects. Avoid the temptation to take your child home early.
That said, when push comes to shove, you should trust your parental instincts.
Only a small percentage of homesickness cases are truly severe. These are the instances when a child is too anxious or depressed to eat or sleep and their unhappiness is the sole defining factor of their experience.
In those cases, bring your child home. But do not make your child feel like a failure for coming home early–remind them that you are proud of them for trying camp and that they can try camp again next year.
When it comes to choosing sleepaway summer camps in California, we know that you have options. You could send your child to a dance camp, or an art camp, or a science camp, or anything in between.
At Pali Adventures, we offer more than just a summer camp. We offer a community that allows children to grow, to learn how to be independent and discover new things about themselves while having the time of their lives.
If you’re looking at enrolling your child in summer camp with us, we can’t wait to see you this summer! Click here to check out our enrollment dates and pricing.