Parent Guide - Help with Homesickness

Help with Homesickness

(You are Here!)

Lonely child - Photo by PixabayHelp with Homesickness

We live in an culture of constant, instant connection.

Think about your child's habits. How much time to they spend...

  • In face-to-face interaction with classmates, friends and/or siblings?
  • With an electronic device, talking with friends via text, voice, video or on social media?
  • In a room with the TV or a similar device turned on?
  • Listening to a music device?
  • Playing video games on a phone, tablet, laptop or gaming console?

Now, you have challenged them to spend a week (or more) at a camp, outdoors, surrounded by new people, and unplugged from their normal face-to-face and digital communities.

It is a good life choice. It is a healthy choice.... It can also be very hard on a child.

Here are some tricks we have learned that can help you and your child make their camp experience a success.

1. Let your child know what to expect, both the exciting stuff and the challenging stuff.

  • This is a time to make new, face-to-face friendships.
    • Their family, friends and pets are not going anywhere, and will be okay without them for a week.
      • A lot of kids today do not get homesick because they "need" their parents/siblings/pets (sorry mom and dad)... but they are homesick from worrying about how their family is going to get by for an entire week without them.
    • It may help to invite a friend or classmate their age along so your child has a "buddy" to try new things with.
  • This is a week without electronic devices
    • Some children depend on 'music' at bedtime. It can help to practice spending a night or two at home without music too so that their first night at camp is not also their first "silent night."
    • Encourage other forms of communication (more on this later)
    • Encourage a journal or sketching - something they can do during down time like R&R or in the evenings to keep their hands busy and their mind focused on the positive. A lot happens at camp, and a journal or sketchbook can help them share all their stories later.
    • For kids who are reluctant to write or draw, an activity packet with age-appropriate activities is a good substitute. Coloring pages, a journal with writing prompts, crosswords and sudoku, "escape room" or choose your adventure books, or similar ideas can help.
    • Send them with a book or two. Better yet, get two copies and read the book with them either by writing out a plan describing what pages to read each day, or challenging them to see who can finish reading a challenging book first. This could pair well with daily One-Way Emails... but remember not to include spoilers!
  • This is a week to try new things
    • Not every new experience is bad.
    • Not every new experience will be an instant favorite.
    • Not every new experience is easy. Some camp experiences require some work and effort, but hard things can be good and there is value in perseverance.
  • Let them know - and buy into - the "Why"
    • Kids today are smart! If "Camp" is just another day care option to keep them busy and safe while you are at work, they will pick up on that and act accordingly.
    • Don't just tell them, "you are going to camp because it's good for you." Discuss your reasons for wanting them to attend camp, and encourage them to come up with reasons of their own.
    • This is especially true for our Day Camp participants.

2. Focus on the positive

  • Help your child set goals!
    • What new experiences can be gained?
    • What new skills can they come home with? This can be more than, "I shot an arrow at Archery," or even, "I hit the target."
    • In what ways can they show leadership in their group? Or in what ways can they follow their leader?
    • What success stories can they watch for, so they can remember what stories to tell you?
    • If your child returns for multiple days or weeks, it can help to reevaluate these goals throughout the summer. Celebrate their accomplishments and then help them set new and more challenging goals.
  • Encourage your child through the week
    • Our One-Way Emails offer new options for parents to engage in their child's camp experience in a positive way.
      • Write an encouraging note
      • Tell a joke, or send a silly picture or (appropriate) comic
        • Sometimes others see messages that are shared in the cabin or forgotten on the lunch tables.
      • Share a daily Scripture verse or "Quote to Ponder"
      • Find your child in our Photo Memories through GoogleDrive and let them know you saw them... this is especially effective if you receive a letter from them (or a call from us) letting you know your child are struggling with homesickness... and you saw a photo of them smiling.
        • "I know you are having a hard time right now, but I can see you are having fun too."
      • A word of caution: Some family news is better shared in person ... and not in a mid-week email print-off given to your child at mail call in front of the entire camp.
        • Ask yourself, can this news wait until Friday?
        • If the news cannot wait, please call our office with a message for a Program Director (Pearl or Ducky). We can arrange a phone call with your child or even an early pick-up as the situation requires.
        • If you are uncertain... feel free to call anyway. We can be discrete, and it helps if we are prepared for some family news events in advance... if only so we can pray for your family and for your child before an anticipated difficult homecoming.
  • Even though you are apart, there are still things you can do together.
    • Take a moment to say a quick traditional family prayer at meals or bed time
    • Write out a prayer or note they can read every morning (or evening), knowing that you are also going to read it when you get up (or go to bed).
    • Challenge them to a book reading contest. Or a daily crossword, or Sudoku, or whatever your child likes.

3. Be careful what you tell your child, especially what you promise.

  • The worst thing you can tell a child is, "if you don't like camp, call me and I will come get you."
    • Camp is your child's opportunity to practice independence. Yes, it can be hard, but they lose their chance to persevere and achieve success if you give them this escape route from literally any situation at camp that they dislike.
    • Instead, encourage your child to talk to their counselor in place of talking to you. Our staff is here to provide great experiences. If you child is not having fun, or if something (or someone) is troubling them, they can talk with their counselor or another team member and we will gladly do what we can to make things right.
    • Some children need to also discuss timing their requests for help. If something is unsafe our team will respond immediately. However, standing at the archery range while the counselor is actively supervising everyone's turn is not a good time to discuss something that happened the night before. We have time built into the schedule - meals, R&R, snack time, swimming - where a camper can request and receive the individual attention they need.
  • The second worst statement follows the lines of, "I miss you so much, your siblings miss you, your pets miss you, your favorite stuffed pet llama plushy misses you, and we cannot get along at home without you here with us."
    • Statements like this make kids feel guilty for leaving their parents and family at home, or guilty about having too much fun without you. The words are said with good intentions, but hearing them at camp, especially if a child already feels alone and homesick, these words can do more harm than good.
    • This is especially true with the invention of One-Way Emails. A parent can now remind their child how much they are missed at home every evening, just as the sun is going down and their camper is getting tired and missing their home routine and the familiar faces of their family.
    • It is healthy to say you will miss them, and that they will miss you, and once again, focus on the positive. "It's only for a few days. This is a great chance to do new things, and I cannot wait to hear about all your adventures when you get home."
    • When in doubt, say, "I love you!"
  • If you promise to send a note, please remember to send one!
    • There is nothing worse for a child than expecting a note from home and not receiving one.
    • Once again... our One-Way Email options are your friend!

4. Ultimately we are here for your child to have a good experience

  • Let your child know where to get help
    • When you arrive, help your child share any goals or fears they might have with their counselor.
    • Let your child know it is okay to ask their counselor for help if they need it.
  • Let your child know if they get really homesick, that it is okay
    • Your child should know that our staff will do everything they can to make Camp a great experience.
    • That means we will do everything we can to help with homesickness - distractions, activities, conversations, late-night cookie breaks... we have a variety of tricks to help campers get to the end of a week at camp.
    • That also means that we are trying to help them succeed here. We are not trying to keep them from going home, we just want to understand what your child is feeling so that we can help meet their goals to spend the entire week here and to go home on Friday
  • In the event of extreme homesickness:
    • Our counselors talk to our Program Directors - often long before this stage. Our entire team will pull together to help encourage any camper who needs it.
    • Our Program Director may decide to call home - most often alone, while your child is with their group. This lets us discuss the child's needs with you, to ask about strategies or conversation topics that might help us to help your camper through the "homesickness" part of camp so that they can enjoy the fun parts.
    • We may ask, or you can request, for a conversation between you and your child. Remember that most often a homesick child who hears their parent's voice will break into tears - no matter how good or challenging the circumstances - and beg to come home. This includes teens.
    • The conversation will then transition as we work with the parent and the child to set new goals... obviously a parent cannot drop everything and immediately arrive at camp (if only because of your travel time from home or work). The question we ask is, how long can the child hold out. An hour? An evening, with an early pick-up at breakfast? If we make a second call, will that be enough to get them through the week? Or, do we need to schedule an early pick-up?
  • Once the conversation reaches this final stage, there is no going back. A camper promised that they can go home early is instantly cured... and the homesickness then spreads to every other camper in their group.
    • Our goals instantly shift from getting our camper through the week, to getting them ready to leave as quietly as possible. Your child is safe and cared for, and now we need to care for the others in their group. Goodbyes with the other campers are quick, and your child may need to spend some time with another team member until you arrive, so that their counselor can return to the group.
    • Sometimes a child sees their parents and decides that they are suddenly okay to complete the week. We have learned from experience that this often does more harm than good to both the camper and their camp community. It is better to allow a clean break to take place, and then try again at another time. Obviously each situation is unique, but reintegration mid-week is a hard feat to pull off.
  • There is always next year!
    • Camp is a learning experience. Leaving the program early does not mean that camp is not a good fit for your child. There are many factors involved, and sometimes that day or two spent here this year can be a building block for a successful experience next year.