By Joanne Bryan, Marketing Director for Camp Juliette Low
While most children adjust to overnight camp very quickly, homesick feelings are a normal part of growing up and being away from home. The combination of a warm, supportive camp environment, a busy schedule of activities, and a bit of preparation at home are usually all it takes to help an uneasy child adjust quickly to a new routine. Here are a few tips for parents to help make this year’s camp experience a positive one:
1. Choose a camp together. Involving your child in the process of choosing a camp will give her a sense of ownership, and will make her less likely to feel homesick. Depending on the age of the child, parents can present 2 or 3 camps from which to choose, or they can set the parameters—such as price, distance from home, and available dates—and let the child do the research. Look at photos and promotional videos on the camps’ websites together, and talk about the pros and cons of each camp to find the one that is the best fit.
2. Practice being away from home. Arrange an overnight or weekend visit with friends or relatives to give your child experience being independent and adapting to new situations.
3. Attend an open house or special camping weekend geared toward prospective campers and their parents. Many overnight camps offer tours or programs for new and prospective campers—contact your camp to see what is available. Campers will feel more confident when they know what to expect.
4. Be positive and enthusiastic about camp. Discuss all the fun activities and new experiences that your child will enjoy at camp—talk about having fun, making new friends, being independent, being silly, trying new activities, challenging herself, gaining self-confidence and responsibility, working as a team, etc.
5. Bring a reminder of home. Help your child pick out something special that she can hold or look at when she starts to miss home—a book, a stuffed animal, or a family photo. Here’s one idea we love: make a simple cardboard frame for a family photo and tape it to the inside of your camper’s trunk. On the frame, write some of the things you hope your child will do every day while she’s at camp, for example: Smile, Laugh, Make a New Friend, Try Something New, Be Kind, Be Confident, Be Independent, Have Fun. The photo will feel like a hug and a pep-talk from mom and dad every time she opens her trunk!
Involving your child in the process of choosing a camp will give her a sense of ownership, and will make her less likely to feel homesick.
6. Send cheerful letters and emails to your camper. Receiving mail from home, especially during the first few days of camp, is very important. Mail at camp can be slow, so send your letters early or use the camp’s email service, if one is available. You may also ask your camp if they allow letters/packages to be dropped off on opening day to be delivered throughout the week.
7. Equip your camper with several different strategies to tackle homesickness. Identify times during the day when homesick feelings are likely to be strongest (like mealtimes, rest hour, and bedtime) and be prepared with coping strategies to ensure that missing home does not keep your child from enjoying camp and having fun with new friends. For example:
Write a letter or journal about a fun activity or a new friend;
Make plans with a new friend to be “buddies” during a meal or particular activity;
Take deep breaths and stay positive;
Stay busy and focus on having fun in the moment;
Talk to a counselor about your feelings.
8. Let your child know that homesick feelings won’t last long. Homesick feelings will likely fade in a day or two as she makes new friends and becomes more comfortable with the routines of camp.
9. Check your camp’s policy regarding homesickness before you talk to your child. It’s important that the coping strategies you teach your child match the policies of your camp: What is the camp’s procedure for handling homesickness? What is the camp’s policy regarding communication with parents of a homesick camper? Are campers allowed to call home? In most cases, the camp director will work closely with parents to help a homesick camper successfully adjust to camp life, with an early pick-up being a last resort. It is best not to promise your child that you will pick her up early. Instead, tell her that you are confident that she will settle in and feel comfortable at camp.
10. Make your farewells brief and positive. Don’t linger over sad goodbyes. It’s normal for parents to feel nervous or sad about a child going away to camp, but it’s best not to share those feelings with the camper. If you are confident and enthusiastic about summer camp, your child will be too!
Joanne Bryan does marketing and recruitment for Camp Juliette Low, an overnight camp for girls located on Lookout Mountain in Cloudland, Georgia. She spent six summers at Camp Juliette Low as a camper and seven summers as a camp counselor, and has helped countless campers feel happy and confident at camp! Camp Juliette Low: Preparing Girls for Confident Living and Leadership Since 1922. www.CJL.org