The idea of going to sleep-away camp is so exciting and alluring, many kids and their parents plunge into the experience without considering how to handle homesickness.
Your child may take to camp without a care, but many more children experience the mild separation anxiety and sadness that can only be dubbed "homesickness." There are a few commonsense tips every parent and child can practice to ease the dull ache.
Prepare for Camp from Home
Before your son or daughter leaves for camp, talk about it enthusiastically. If your child thinks you are as excited as he is, he will look forward to the experience.
Mention the possibility of homesickness. Let your son or daughter know that mild cases are to be expected. Suggest she take a favorite pillow, blanket, familiar book, or have soothing music on her iPod.
Make a small photo album for your child with pictures of his home, siblings, parents, grandparents, and pets. Or, if campers are allowed to have phones, make sure the pictures on the phone are friendly and homey.
Some camps don't allow emailing, so send stamped envelopes and pre-addressed postcards with your camper. Encourage him to write to you if he's feeling down. This exercise often is cathartic. If he has access to email, encourage him to use it.
Your child may like to keep a journal. Send a nice, clean, new one to camp with your camper.
Make sure your little one knows exactly when she will be coming home. Pack a calendar with the days marked.
Send a camera and charger. Ask her to take pictures of her friends, counselors, cabin, and camp activities. Knowing she will be sharing the experience with you is reassuring.
Know the Camp
Before you send your child to camp, talk to the camp director at least once. Ask him or her how the camp deals with homesick kids. Try to find out the names of your child's counselors.
If you drive your child to camp (rather than sending him on the camp bus), introduce yourself to the counselors. Try to learn the names of your child's bunkmates.
Take note of the facilities so that you can refer to them in emails and letters from home.
Keep in Touch
Send your child emails, letters, postcards, silly cards, and magazines. Keep your emails or letters breezy and chatty. Ask about counselors and other campers by name.
Encourage your child to participate in camp activities. Nothing banishes the blues as quickly as fun activities. By the end of the day, she will be so exhausted, she'll fall asleep in minutes without a minute to feel sad.
Many camps discourage telephone calls and cell phones -- for good reason. If yours does not, keep the calls to a minimum. Hearing your voice may trigger waning homesickness. Write emails, notes and letters instead. Don't be tempted to text your child too often.
The good news about homesickness is that most kids get over it in a few days. This transitional time may be painful -- and you may get tearful phone calls or heart-wrenching emails -- but it passes.
It's rarely a good idea for parents to rush to the camp and rescue their child. Learning to cope on his own is a valuable lesson your camper will learn, and he will feel immensely and rightfully proud of himself when he does.
If symptoms are serious -- nightmares that don't stop after a couple of nights, difficulty eating, stomach cramps, and frequent headaches -- your child should consult a counselor or other adult. In some extreme cases, the best option is for the child to leave camp.
Most of time homesickness becomes a distant memory by the time camp is over. The same kids who wrote sad emails or letters during the first few days will scoff at the idea later.
Children who are homesick during the early days of camp almost always end up enjoying the experience overall. Isn't this what camp is all about? Teaching self reliance and offering good times that melt into long-lasting memories!