The suitcase is packed with tee shirts and shorts, long pants and jackets. A double check has shown that you haven’t forgotten the Chap Stick, sunscreen, mosquito repellent, or a flashlight. All is set for your child’s first time away at camp. Her excitement, once at a peak, has waned. “What if I’m homesick?” she asks.
While you, too, are feeling a little anxious about this new experience, you know that camp provides an opportunity for fun, meeting new friends, and growing in independence.
Christopher Thurber, a psychologist and researcher from New Hampshire, reports that about 95 percent of campers experience homesickness. Fortunately for most, feelings of loss and sadness are fleeting. For some, however, sorrow interferes with their ability to enjoy the camping experience. Positive steps can be taken to lessen the likelihood of continued homesickness.
Involve children in preparing for camp. Make shopping and packing a mutual activity. When children take ownership of the experience from the start they are likely to enjoy it more.
Tuck little surprise messages among the clothes. These brief notes or cards can turn a blue day around. Mail one or two notes to camp. Receiving letters is exciting and brings you closer in a child’s mind.
Address a few postcards for sending home. Often camps provide an afternoon time for reading and corresponding. When postcards are pre-addressed, children can focus on writing the message.
If the camp allows children to bring a small CD or cassette player, provide inexpensive earphones. Listening to favorite music and stories offers a sense of familiarity.
Occasionally a call home during the week is allowed. If your child is attending such a program, provide a phone card or accept reversed charges. Prior to camp, teach her to use the phone card or to make collect calls. Practice by calling a grandparent or friend. Using a newly learned skill in a familiar setting provides the best opportunity for integration.
You will have received literature suggesting an appropriate amount of money to bring. Go for the average amount suggested. You want your child to have access to the camp store, but not too much to spend on candy and sweets. This experience is about participating in the activities; not about buying for pleasure.
Prior to going to camp, take a walk after dark using a flashlight. Listen to the night sounds. Smell the night smells. Watch the shadows. Children will return from campfire to their cabin in the dark. If they need to use the bathroom during the night, they will walk in the dark. The experience of using a flashlight in order to get around before leaving home heightens the belief in their own capabilities. Having a sleepover in the backyard can be fun and offers a bonus. Your child sleeps away from you, but in a familiar setting. She can use her flashlight to get into the house if necessary. She gets used to sleeping in a sleeping bag.
Taking a favorite blanket, stuffed animal or small toy can be soothing. You may want to give your child a small picture of the family. Some children comfort themselves by looking at a picture of you during the day or prior to going to sleep.
Tell children some of the activities you will engage in while they are gone. Be honest, but don’t highlight special activities that they will miss. Tell them about a typical day. Include outings that you and dad might take such as going out to dinner, to a movie or a concert. Indicate the name of a restaurant or movie. Specifics help create a mental picture they can draw on if feeling lonely
Make good-byes short and joyful. Lingering farewells often lead to tears for both children and parents.
Above all, be positive. An attitude of enthusiasm lets children know that you will be okay when they are gone. Yes, you will miss them, but your life will continue as it usually does. Acknowledge that they may feel homesick if they bring it up. Let them know that going away for the first time can be hard and that you understand. Tell them that their camp counselors are well trained and have the skills to talk to them if they need a friendly ear.
After your child has left, don’t dwell on her absence. Use your time in ways that you might not when she is home. Even if you have other children the family dynamics change. Time flows differently. Enjoy the differences. Know that no news is good news. You can be sure that if a problem arises, you will be notified.