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How to Prepare Your Child for Homesickness at Summer Camp

Homesickness is something that we’ve all experienced at some point in our lives. Maybe it was when we went to camp as a kid, when we shipped off to college, or maybe it was that time we spent a long weekend at a friend’s house. It doesn’t matter how long we were away from home or where we went, it’s how we felt that’s important, and it didn’t feel good.

Before I continue with how we can prevent the symptoms of homesickness, there are a couple of important things I’d like to emphasize. First, the word homesick is scary, especially for children. If you tell a child that he’s homesick, he’s going to think that he’s ACTUALLY sick, which will only make the situation worse. Also, just like a real illness, homesickness can be contagious. That’s why we’re no longer referring to it as homesickness, but as “missing home.” Secondly, missing home is a completely normal feeling that everyone experiences from time-to-time and isn’t something to worry about.

For many children, spending time away from their home, family, friends, and pets can be very difficult, especially if it’s their first time away from those daily routines and comforts. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for many campers, particularly those that are about to embark on their first overnight experience away from home, to feel the symptoms of missing home.

These symptoms can range in intensity and will effect each camper in a different way. After all, it’s overwhelming to transition from a daily routine surrounded by your family and friends in the safety and comfort of your home to an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers.

According to the American Camp Association, a recent study as shown that nearly 96 percent of all boys and girls who were spending two weeks or more at overnight camp reported that they missed home on at least one day.

What causes campers to miss home?

As I mentioned before, practically everyone misses home every once in a while. However, some children appear to be more susceptible to these feelings than others. Why is that? Well, campers who are at a higher risk of missing home are those who feel they’ve been plucked from their comfort zone and placed in unfamiliar territory and children who have little to no experience being away from home.

Also, campers who have low expectations of camp or feel like they’re forced to go to camp typically have a higher chance of missing home. As do children who have little experience coping with negative emotions or campers who have parents who express a lot of anxiety or overwhelming emotions when dropping the child off for camp.

How can we prevent or stop my child from missing home?

Obviously, every child is different so there isn’t any magic cure-all for missing home. However, studies has shown that the symptoms can be alleviated or minimized by taking a two-pronged approach: having the parents and child prepare for camp at home, and teaching the camper how to cope with these feelings when they’re at camp.

The best at home prevention strategies:

Spend time practicing being away from home. Sending your child away from home for small stints can help prepare them for camp. Arrange some weekend sleepovers at a friend’s house or at the grandparents’ house, doing so will help them feel comfortable away from home.

Prepare pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes or postcards to bring to camp. Having an outlet, such as writing home, has been shown to have a positive effect on children who are missing home.

Encourage your child to have fun. It may feel obvious to you, but your camper will have an easier time adjusting to his time at camp if he knows he’s there with your blessing. If he feels like you don’t want him to be there, it’s more likely that he’will miss home.

Bring something that reminds your camper of home. Packing some photos, a favorite stuffed animal, or other tangible item can serve as a safety blanket and help your camper maintain that connection to home while being away.

Send a personalized letter or care package before your child leaves. This way it will be waiting for him when he gets to camp and he will have a nice piece of home waiting for him when he arrives.

It’s probably more difficult for you than it is your child. It’s difficult to watch your child leave home, even if it is just for two weeks. Becoming overly emotional when it’s time to say goodbye can help plant the seed for missing home in your child because he doesn’t want to see you upset any more than you want to see him upset. So it’s important to keep your emotions in check until you and your camper part ways.

Sign up with a friend. Going to camp alone is fine but going with a friend is even better. Try talking with the parents of your child’s fiends and talk about signing up both children so they can see at least one friendly face when they gets there. And don’t forget, we do offer a Refer-a-Friend discount on tuition!

The best at-camp coping strategies:

Stay busy. The best ways for a camper to get over his feelings of missing home is to remain busy. Here at Emagination, we’re more than prepared to keep your kids busy. With each camper actively participating in three technology workshops, one recreation workshop, and a whole bunch of organized free-time activities, they might complain more about how fast their time at camp is going by than not being at home.

Talk with someone. If your child is missing home, it’s important to have him talk to his councilors, who are trained to help children overcome those feeling, and his fellow campers because they may be going through, or have gone through, the same situation your camper is and can offer help.

Write home. You’ve written out those pre-stamped and pre-addressed envelopes, now encourage your child to use them. This will give him an outlet to talk about everything that’s been going on at camp and to express how he feels to someone he feels comfortable confiding in.

Emphasize that camp is just for a couple of weeks and not forever. Starting a two week camp away from home can feel like it will last forever, but more often than not, as soon as the camper gets home he will realize the experience was over before he knew it.

Have fun. This is arguably the most important thing of all. As the old adage goes: “time flies when you?re having fun.” If you child is missing home, encourage them to have as much fun as possible – not only will it help ease his symptoms, but the days will go by faster and he’ll be home before he knows it, begging to go back again.


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