Saturday, June 16, 2012

Helping Your Child Beat Summer Camp Homesickness

With summer camps opening up all across the country we thought that you would find these tips useful to help your child beat homesickness at camp by Andrew Benkendorf, LCSW and Jessica Furie, MSW and L.A. Parent Magazine  Thanks for these great tips.

Whether this is your child’s first summer at camp, or they are a returning camper, many children struggle with being away from home. Allowing your child to navigate this challenge will help her develop independence, confidence in her abilities, and a deeper sense of self. Here are three tips to set your child up for success.

1) Provide a Vote of Confidence:
Be positive and express your confidence in your child’s capacity to be away from home and navigate the challenges that will inevitably arise while at camp. Reinforce how proud you are and provide constant encouragement. If they miss home there are lots of things they can do to still feel connected. They can write letters home, listen to music, talk to a friend, or look at a picture from home.

2) Avoid making deals about early pick-ups:
In our many years of working as inclusion specialists at an overnight camp, we can say with confidence that 95% of kids, who experience moments of sadness make it through the session with a smile of their face. The other 5% go home.

So what differentiates the 5% from the 95%? The innocent-but-destructive suggestion that if the child is having a hard time, the parents will come pick them up. Or, parents who suggest, “Just try it out for a few days.” When parents say this to their children, the child has less confidence in their abilities and a higher determination that if they keep crying, Mom or Dad will come get them. These kids think, “Well, I just need to prove how homesick I am, then my parents will come and get me.”

Although the other 95% of homesick kids may try this tactic also, once they are told that Mom or Dad won’t pick them up, within six hours, these kids are usually playing soccer and smiling. They realize that they might as well try to make the best of their experience, because there is no way that Mom or Dad or Grandma will come get them.
The tactic of telling your child that you won’t come get them may seem obvious; however, many camps have not figured this out yet. Often times, counselors will say to a child, “Just try getting through a few more hours, and then we will check in and see how you are doing.” When counselors say this, it sends the message, “Prove to me how homesick you are.” If your camp calls you to tell you that your child is homesick, although this is often painful, the best thing you can do is to have the camp relay the message to your son or daughter that you love them very much and you know they can make it, so you are not going to pick them up.
Here is where our clinical judgment comes in: If, within 12 hours of telling the camper that they are not going home, the camper is still having a miserable time, this is when I know that they are not trying to prove their homesickness and that they may just not be ready for camp. So although you will tell your son or daughter that you will not pick them up, tell the camp director to call you 12 hours later. If at that time the homesickness has not ceased, we would recommend picking up your child.

3) Watch Your Emotions:
Parents are often nervous about sending their child to camp and must be cognizant of how this impacts their child. Make sure your child knows that you’ll be fine while she’s gone and that you’re looking forward to hearing about all her adventures when you pick her up at the end of the session.
One time a camper that we worked with wrote letters home that he hated camp and wanted to leave. It turned out that his mom was going through cancer treatment and told her son that she didn’t know what she was going to do without him. Although she meant this in a loving way, her son thought that he needed to prove his homesickness so that he could leave camp and tend to his mom. When Mom later explained that she wanted him to stay and have a good time, the camper had a great remainder of the session.

Perhaps you have other tips you would like to share. Perhaps your child would like to create a keepsake of their time away at camp - order a My Vacation Journal from our website at and don't forget the coupon code found on our Facebook page.

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