A Challenge for Both Kids and Their Parents
This is it! The year your child will be going to camp for the very first time! As summer rapidly approaches, you may be worried about how your child (and let’s be honest, YOU) will handle that separation. But take heart, a little homesickness is completely normal and there are plenty of things you can do to help ease the transition… for the both of you. With over 25 years experience working at overnight camps, here are strategies that I’ve seen parents successfully implement to get both themselves and their kids to overcome emotional obstacles and move forward with a summer camp experience of a lifetime.
Research: There is an endless array of camps to choose from but it’s important to take the time to do the research and find the right fit for your child. That process should involve the child’s input. Choosing an American Camp Association accredited camp that caters to your child’s interests will likely keep him or her too busy having fun during his or her stay to think about missing home for any length of time.
Camp Communication: It’s only natural that as a parent you’ll want to be able to communicate with your child while they are away at camp. Feel free to call and ask the camp staff how your child is doing and what activities they are doing , however do not speak with the child. It inhibits their growth. Let them breathe. Let them know that they can do this on their own. A call from a parent can make a child who was doing fine suddenly feel homesick.
However, if the camp thinks that it is a good idea for you to speak to your child, I can only offer one piece of advice, one phrase to use that I have seen work 99% of the time. Take a deep breath and repeat after me…
“You are not coming home, you made a commitment to go to camp and that is what you will do. You wanted to go to camp. We will pick you up at the end of the session. I love you. I believe you will have a great time at camp.” Then hang up!
Lastly, a good camp will be in constant communication with you and will keep you informed of everything you need to know if your child is having any adjustment issues. Choose a camp that post photos online. This will provide you with great reassurance. A picture does say a thousand words.
Camper’s Commitment: Whatever happens, do NOT give your child an escape clause! This may sound harsh, however, if you are sending your child to camp with the phrase “give it a try, if you do not like it, I’ll come and pick you up” – save yourself, the camp and the child the time, effort, and energy and do not send the child to camp! They will already know that you will “rescue” them. That when times get tough, Mom and Dad will help them avoid a less than perfect day. It will not matter how friendly the staff are! It will not matter how awesome the activities could be. It will not matter how great of friends the kids in the cabin could potentially be…your child will ALREADY want to go home. Your child will mentally not want to be there, and you have already given them an out! The staff will try all the tricks in the book, but it will not help because “I’m going home, my parents promised me.”
Emails/Letters: Though calls are not recommended, keeping in touch with your child by letter or email is a wonderful way to stay in touch and let her know you are thinking about her. This is a great way to express how you hope she is enjoying the cool activities and of course, that you hope she takes time to shower and brush her teeth. But do not write how much you miss them. This only puts guilt onto a child that is having a good time. How can a child enjoy camp when their mom is missing them so much?
Knowing our child is homesick is gut wrenching for any parent – but for a child to learn how to overcome it is a major opportunity to grow and strengthen problem-solving skills on their own. And once cured, it can open the door to a new dilemma as noted by one of our previous campers…“Once you’ve gone to camp, you’ll never be homesick anymore, only camp sick.”
Ian Brassett has worked in sleep-away camps since 1988, starting as a counselor and soccer instructor in a four and eight week summer camp. His current role is General Manager of Pali Mountain, a facility that houses Pali Adventures, a residential one week specialty summer camp in Southern California, as well as Pali Institute and Pali Mountain Retreat and Conference Center.