Homesickness and camp: what to do if your child is away and lonely
BY MARCY MARRO For Sun-Times Media
Editor: Tammy Matthews | Cover/Page Design: Jennifer Williams
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While summer camp offers children a chance to experience many different activities, no one wants to spend the time wishing they could go home.
Meredith Stevens, Camp Echo program manager with McGaw YMCA in Evanston, said that they remind campers that everyone gets homesick, including the counselors and leadership staff.
“We tell them that it’s a good thing, that it means that they’ve got a healthy home life,” she said.
Before summer arrives, you can help prepare children for what to expect from the camp experience. Eve Thornton, clinical psychologist and founder of One in a Hundred camp in Highland Park, said that parents should be completely honest and truthful in telling children what to expect.
If children will be attending overnight camp, prepare them for the experience of being away from you for a few nights. Danny Glassman, overnight camp director at JCYS Camp Henry Horner in Ingleside, recommends encouraging a child’s independence by having them do sleepovers with friends or relatives.
A few days before camp, parents can send a package or letter so that it’s at camp when your child arrives. When writing letters, acknowledge in a positive way that while you are going to miss them, they are going to have a great time at camp and you are excited for them. Stevens said not to talk about all of the things that they are missing out on at home, but focus on how proud you are of them. Additionally, sending personal items with your child can give them strength and act as a connection to home, Glassman added.
If a child does get homesick, the camp directors are equipped to handle the situation. Heidi Mabie, associate program director at Camp Anokijig in Plymouth, Wis., said you should encourage your child to talk to his or her camp counselor or camp director if they are starting to feel homesick.
“Often, a completely unrelated event, such as I lost my towel, can spark ideas of ‘I’m in trouble.’ Or ‘I want to go home because now I can’t go swimming,’” she said.
Jonathan Pratscher, CPRP, leisure services supervisor at the Northbrook Park District, recommends immersing children into an activity as soon as possible to take their mind off any negative feelings.
“As the child participates and becomes acquainted with camp life the homesickness feelings tend to fade away,” he said.
If you do receive a rescue letter, Glassman recommended staying calm.
“For a lot of these kids, it’s the first time away, and it takes a while for them to blend into the community and to become adjusted to the camp experience,” he said.
While most of the time homesickness passes in the first three days, Glassman recommends staying in contact with your child’s unit head to make sure they are comfortable.
Mabie agreed and said: “Keeping an open line of communication is what really helps parents and their kids and the staff members deal with homesickness that comes up.”