Coping with Homesickness
January 21, 2020
Homesickness is real. It’s a thing. It’s not all in our heads, and it’s a completely normal experience for campers. There’s no way to prevent homesickness, for even the most-seasoned camper can feel this occasionally. Still, part of preparing for camp is preparing for the possibility of homesick feelings. While no two campers or camps are the same, ACA, New England recommends the following three thoughts to consider while preparing for homesickness at camp.
Practice makes perfect
The first night your camper is at camp shouldn’t be the first night they sleep away from their home or family. As adults, many of us are far removed from those uncomfortable feelings. It’s been years since we remember staying in a new place for the first time, and through experience, we’ve grown accustomed to coping with new surroundings, even if just for a night. Campers need time and experience to adjust as well.
Throughout the year leading up to camp, make sure your camper has the opportunity for a sleepover at a friend’s house. Try sending the future camper away to visit a relative for the weekend (you both will benefit). If their school offers any overnight experiences, those are great practice too. When possible, extend the length of stay to increase their comfort level. The main purpose is to give your camper the opportunity to feel these feelings and develop strategies for how best to manage them. Little by little, overnight excursions can build confidence, so that first night in Bunk 5 isn’t the first night away from the comforts of home.
Failing to plan is planning to fail
Talk with the camper about homesickness well before the summer. Make sure they understand the normalcy of these feelings, and place homesickness in the greater context of the camp experience. Regardless of the weekends with friends or holidays at Nana’s house, homesickness can still creep up while at camp. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” approach to preparing for homesickness. For some, bringing pictures or a favorite stuffed animal helps while with other campers, those same ideas can make things worse. It takes a little time and dedicated thought to figure out what works best for your camper.
You’re not alone in figuring out this approach though. The camp you’re sending your child to is just as invested in appropriately preparing and managing homesickness. Reach out to the camp director. Ask if they have pre-camp suggestions for preparing. Ask how they approach homesickness and what strategies they’ve seen succeed over the years. Come the end of the summer, the camper may not have even needed this help. However, just like a rain jacket, you don’t want or expect the rain, but you always prepare for it.
Communication is key
Some campers don’t want to hear from home during their session. For others, lack of a daily letter can trigger unsettling feelings. Once again, while there is not singular answer for all campers, there are common practices many camps suggest help with the transition to camp and maintaining a positive mindset throughout a camper’s stay.
Send a letter to camp prior to the camper’s arrival so it’s waiting for them. In there, remind the camper how much fun they’re going to have. Remind them of all the positive conversations you had preparing for this wonderful opportunity. If they’re up for it and feeling confident heading into summer, capture that positive energy. Have the camper write a letter to themselves and send it ahead of time with your letter.
Whether a single note or a daily digest for your camper, remember to keep the information positive. Unless the information is time-sensitive and necessary to share with your camper, hold off on any bad news until after camp. If you must share something unfortunate, talk to the camp and see if you can deliver that on the phone. Sad letters from home don’t help anyone.