Dealing with Homesickness

What is Homesickness?

Homesickness is, above all, a normal feeling. It is the natural result of separating from home and loved ones. In a recent study, nearly 96% of all boys and girls who were spending two weeks or more at overnight camp reported some homesickness on at least one day. Almost all children (and grown-ups!) feel homesick when they're away from home. People's feelings simply vary in intensity.

 

What causes it?

There are several factors that put children at greater risk for becoming homesick. For example, children with little previous experience away from home, children who have low expectations of camp, children who feel forced to go to camp, children who are unsure whether adults will help them if they need help, children who have little practice coping with negative emotions, and children whose parents express a lot of anxiety are most likely to feel homesick.

You may be surprised to learn that some factors have nothing to do with the intensity of homesickness. These include geographic distance between home and camp and the presence of a friend from home at camp.

 

When is it a problem?

Most feelings of homesickness are not problematic. In fact, missing home isn't a problem until it becomes a preoccupation. When the feelings of sadness and anxiety associated with missing home become so strong that making friends, having fun, sleeping, eating, and participating in activities is difficult, something must be done.

 

What can be done?

It used to be thought that feelings of missing home disappeared spontaneously after a few days at camp. Although this is true for most cases of mild homesickness, research has demonstrated that if left unchecked, homesickness can intensify over time. The best remedy is a two-pronged approach:

(1) Prevent homesickness at home, before it starts; and (2) Actively cope at camp, if natural feelings of homesickness reach problematic levels.

 

The best at-home prevention strategies include:

  • for first-time campers, call and arrange a visit to Camp Selah before your week approaches
  • arrange for a close friend or relative to come along that week as a cabin-mate
  • work together as a family, acknowledge feelings and communicate your love; consider role-playing anticipated camp situations such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom
  • spend practice time away from home, such as a long weekend at a friend's house
  • send a letter or postcard to camp ahead of time, so your camper will have the letter waiting when they arrive
The best in-camp interventions for homesick campers include:
  • pack a favorite stuffed animal or book
  • stay busy
  • talk with someone
  • remember that you're not at camp for your whole life-just one week
  • write letters home
  • remembering all the fun activities that camp offers and doing them!

The most common mistake parents make is the Pick-Up Deal. It's normal for children to ask, "What if I feel homesick?" Tell your child that some feelings of homesickness are normal and help him practice coping before camp starts. But never ever say, "If you feel homesick, I'll come and get you." This conveys a message of doubt and pity that undermines children's confidence and independence. Pick-Up Deals become mental crutches and self-fulfilling prophecies for children as soon as they arrive at camp. If, after spending practice time away from home, a child is still very anxious about overnight camp, consider waiting a until next summer.

 

If adjustment problems (such as homesickness) do occur while your child is at Camp Selah:

  • Camp staff will contact you, the parents, via email or phone call. Talk candidly with the camp staff to obtain their perception of your child's adjustment
  • Resist the temptation to "rescue" your son or daughter from this experience
  • Support your child's efforts to work out the problems with the help of the staff
  • Remind him/her, if necessary, that he/she has made a commitment
  • Trust your instincts: The occasional child who is truly not enjoying anything, having a miserable time and not adjusting to camp life at all will be allowed to return home after a reasonable amount of time and effort

 

The Good News

When children arrive at camp with a repertoire of coping strategies and some practice time away from home under their belts, they are ready for those normal feelings of homesickness. Sure, they'll miss home, but they'll know exactly what to think and do when it bothers them. Best of all, the staff at Selah are here to help! Nothing boosts children's self-esteem quite like overcoming a bout of homesickness and learning how good they are at controlling the amount of fun they have. Camp truly is a classroom for life lessons.

 

A special thanks to the American Camp Association for the information on homesickness prevention and intervention.