When my kids were heading off to overnight camp last season, I had a lot of anxiety about homesickness.
As a child I would NEVER have attended camp — I wouldn’t even go for a sleepover. In my mind, there was only one place for me: the comfort of my own home surrounded by my loving family. But my kids were keen to go away to camp and I was very careful not to project my issues onto them. I was, however, mindful that it could happen so I tried to set them up for success.
Homesickness is natural, but there are a few little tricks that can help young campers through it:
- Don’t set your kids up to feel homesick. Be respectful of camp policies around contacting your child—they’ve been created by professionals who have dealt with this issue countless times. Constant phoning or e-mailing your child may not be helpful. And for goodness’ sake, avoid telling your kids how much you’re going to miss them. You don’t need them at camp worrying about how you’re doing. I also keep information about fun stuff going on at home to a minimum. I don’t want them feeling like they are missing out on family activities by being at camp.
- Have them go with a friend, sibling or cousin and arrange for them to bunk together if possible. This can make all the difference to a very shy or insecure child who would never brave camp alone.
- Make sure younger kids have a concept of how much time they’ll be away and have a way to measure it. Clearly mark the camp start and end dates on a calendar and highlight any especially fun days or events so they have specific things to look forward to and mark time with.
- Visit the camp or meet its counsellors beforehand with your child. The resulting sense of familiarity can be comforting. This is also particularly important if you have a child with special needs since you can ensure appropriate support systems and accommodations are in place. Because each camp and child is different, investing time to find the right match will minimize the chance of homesickness.
- Send along a “lovey”. Do they have something special at home that brings them comfort? Send it along. Help them relax by packing reading/writing materials, comfy pillows and soft toys. I found that sending care packages was therapeutic for me—and I know they loved receiving them!
With the goal of encouraging children to be self-sufficient and independent, camps themselves are experts at helping kids deal with homesickness. Whether or not separation anxiety strikes, camp staff ensure a smooth transition for new campers right from the start. If a camper is homesick, the director and the entire staff are made aware of the situation so that everyone can be supportive and encouraging.
With so much support and preparation, every camper can have an incredible camp experience!