You’ve shopped, you’ve packed, you’ve gone over the list 20 times, and finally, you’ve delivered your child to the camp bus. You’ve stood there waving for what seemed an hour, and now you’re back at home, looking forward to a little quiet “me” time. So what do you do when you receive the first of many letters, saying, “I hate it here! It’s raining all the time, all the kids hate me, and the food makes me sick. Please, please, PLEASE can I come home?”
Homesickness is very common and affects about twenty percent of children at camp, according to the American Camping Association. Although a younger child is more likely to feel homesick than an older one, even teens and college students experience homesickness. The feeling is usually transitory and diminishes once a child becomes involved in camp activities, makes connections with some other campers, and bonds with her counselor. Some children become upset enough that they turn their anxiety into physical symptoms—stomach aches, nausea, or muscle aches. Homesickness is worse at night, and sometimes it’s catching! A whole bunk can come down with the problem.
What to Do
What can a parent do? First, don’t over react. Keep in mind that your child is experiencing a common feeling, and that it will pass. Don’t ignore her complaints, but focus on the fact that you know she’ll soon make friends and start enjoying comp. Don’t tell your child about all the fun you’re having without him, but don’t go overboard on how much you miss him either. That will just make your child feel envious or guilty.
A good experience begins before your child gets on the bus, so visit any camp you’re considering with your child, and involve him in the getting-ready process. If it’s your child’s first summer away at camp, start to build confidence in the spring with sleepovers at friends’ homes and a weekend at a relative’s. Don’t promise that you’ll take her home if she’s unhappy because that discourages a child from adapting to a new routine. Keep your response light and reassuring, emphasizing your confidence in her ultimate success.
JCC Camp Staff Are Pros
Most important, have confidence in the people running the camp. JCC camp professionals know how to deal with these situations. They really want children to have a good experience. Finally, give it time. Your child might be homesick for a whole week, and still be enjoying himself. It’s okay for kids to miss their parents and also have a good time. They can do both.