Homesick & Happy - It’s Totally Normal!
Posted April 14, 2015 by Connie Scholfield
Homesick & Happy - It's Totally Normal!
With just a few months before the camp season is upon us, some of you may be beginning to worry about your camper experiencing some homesickness while she goes away to camp for the first time (or the second, or the third…). We have some suggestions you can start working on now so you can worry less about homesickness later!
Talk to your camper about homesickness – It may seem counterintuitive to talk to her before any homesick feelings even occur- maybe if I talk about homesickness, that will only make it happen! In Michael Thompson psychologist and camp consultant in his book Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow cites a study that found that 97% of campers experience homesickness at one point or another. This homesickness could range from just a brief moment of missing home (many campers) to continuous crying (very few campers). Statistically however, it can be reassuring to a first year camper to know that the thoughts and feelings she is experiencing are not unlike the ones her new camp friends are also experiencing. Campers are often ashamed that they are homesick, so knowing ahead of time that being a homesick is a normal reaction is comforting.
Encourage your camper to talk about her homesickness – Now that she knows what she is experiencing is not abnormal, your camper should feel more comfortable discussing her feelings with her counselors or friends. Just talking about what she misses at home can help her. Do not assume that just because she is attending camp with girls she already knows or is friendly with she will not experience homesickness. Many of our staff who were also campers at Red Pine came to camp the first time with friends, and still got homesick! Luckily, they were able to talk about how they felt with their friends and they were able to get through it together.
Practice sleeping away from home –Schedule a sleepover at a friend’s house, a Girl Scout trip, or even just an overnight at a relative’s house. If your camper knows she can survive one night away from her parents, the transition to sleeping away at camp will be less daunting.
Go through the packing list together – Pack the trunk & duffel for camp together. Make sure your camper knows where everything is in her trunk and for what it will be used. This way, she will know where everything is when she needs it at camp and will have some familiarity with her. You can also use this as an opportunity to pack a book, a stuffed animal, or a pack of cards. Campers feel the most homesick when they take a break from the busy camp activities. If she has the cards or a book, she will have something to occupy her thoughts during these breaks in the day. Nighttime can be tough too, so something snuggly (but something that isn't too precious to embrace a little camp dirt) from home can be helpful.
Don’t make any promises – One huge mistake Thompson cites that parents may make is making a certain promise to their child: “If you get homesick and can’t stand camp, we’ll come pick you up,” or “Just try it this year. If you really get homesick, we won’t send you back next year.” Too often campers cling to this promise and refuse to let themselves have fun at camp. Rather than make this promise, promise your daughter that the counselors are trained to help campers get over homesickness and make sure everyone is having fun. You can promise your daughter that she can talk to her counselors and they will listen to her and do their best to make sure she feels safe and happy.
While dropping her off at camp:
Don’t send her with a phone – Before attending camp, your camper signs a Camper Conduct Code that talks about appropriate behavior at camp. Part of this contract is that she will not bring any mobile or electronic devices. This is so she will not damage or lose any valuable devices, and it is also because we want our campers to unplug and take a break from technology while at camp! At Red Pine, we do not allow campers to call their parents. Campers who are homesick often believe that just hearing their parents’ voices will make them feel better, but in reality it just makes them miss home even more. Holding onto a phone is your daughter holding onto the notion that she can call to leave at any time, and it doesn’t allow her to enjoy camp fully. Leave the cell phones at home! We will call you if we have concerns about your camper - we promise.
Share any concerns –Our counselors will already know who the first time campers are. Counselors will be excited to meet their campers and eager to make sure they all get along and have fun, so know that your daughter will be left in good hands! If you have any particular concerns, please share them. It is very helpful for our staff and together we're a team that wants to make your camper's experience the best possible.
Don’t linger –I notice two types of campers during Camper drop off. There are the campers that practically push their parents out of camp. They act as disinterested in their parents as possible and try to get to know the other girls in their group as quickly as possible. Then there are the campers that are a little more hesitant to join this unfamiliar group. They stay closer to their parents and silently beg them not to leave. My advice is to get your daughter settled into camp as soon as possible. Yes, you are absolutely allowed to ask the counselors questions, enjoy a camp tour and see the cabin your camper will be living in but the sooner you leave, the sooner your daughter can adjust to the new setting and become friends with the girls in her cabin and unit.
Write letters – Thompson declares letters from home the best medicine for homesickness. Get the whole family involved in writing letters – I can tell you that I was not homesick when I received a letter from my Dad who wrote that he hoped I was learning how to waterski so that he could take me later in the summer. Tell your daughter you miss her, but you cannot wait to hear about all her fun adventures.
Don’t be alarmed by her letters – It is very typical for a homesick child’s first few letters to include complaints and a description of how miserable she is. It is also completely normal for a child to write a letter about how awful they feel, and then send a letter describing how much fun she is having later in the week. You can encourage your daughter to write about her feelings to you, but remember not to promise to come and get her if she is homesick! To make it easier for her to send you mail, you can pack her stationery and envelopes that already have your home address and stamp on them. (Elin, who collects the post for us, would love to have more properly addressed envelopes!)
For more information and camp stories about homesickness and how campers become more independent by going away despite their homesick feelings, check out Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow by Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
We can't wait to see your camper this summer!
Connie & Scout
Tags: getting ready for camp