Summer Camp Homesickness: It’s Normal!
Summertime means freedom from school, with opportunities for new and wonderful experiences! A week or so in a camp with the excitement of canoeing, archery, crafts, and hiking delights the adventuresome spirits of seven-year-olds leaving home for the first time. With a lodge full of new friends, campfire songs, and the excitement of being out in nature … how could life possibly be better?
So … what’s this weird aching in the stomach, and strange feelings of emptiness all about?
Homesickness can strike anyone who travels away for an extended period, though it usually will most bother children on their first away-from-home experiences.
A boy might miss his dog, or a girl, her doll. We all have favorite tokens that make “home” special. Luckily, homesickness is usually mild and doesn’t last long. Once the new surroundings and people become more familiar, feelings of homesickness tend to go away.
If your child is scheduled to attend a camp for the first time, consider discussing this topic with him or her, in preparation for a great summer of new experiences.
“Homesickness can occur even in well-adjusted children when they are separated from their families for various reasons,” says Philip Smith, CCSW, a certified psychological counselor at Memorial Hospital of Gulfport.
“This includes exciting and enjoyable activities such as attending camp or staying with relatives,” Smith said.
“Parents can make the transition easier by openly acknowledging this possibility with their child before the child leaves.”
Parents should reassure the child that such feelings are normal and will most likely fade quickly.
In a paper co-written by Chris Thurber and Edward Walton, published in “Pediatrics,” the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, homesickness is defined as “distress and functional impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home and attachment objects such as parents.”
Those who suffer from the condition feel anxious, sad, and nervous, Thurber said. They often have an obsessive preoccupation with thoughts of home.
Here’s a list of some ideas to help reduce homesickness, adopted from Kidshealth.org.
1. Acclimate. Before sending your child off for a summer camp, have him spend the weekend at a friend’s house so he’s used to being away from home at night.
2. Provide a security blanket. Have the child pick out a favorite stuffed animal to bring with him.
3. Attend camp with a friend. Sharing a camping experience with a friend from home can provide the comfort of familiarity.
4. Write a letter. Once at camp, having the child share his experiences often makes the camper realize how much fun he’s having
5. Consider a call home. A familiar voice can be reassuring, though in some children this can backfire and increase homesickness. Parents should consider this carefully; it’s a judgment call.
Most people have experienced a version of homesickness at some point. While the feeling can make one sad, it’s not all bad. Remember: being homesick means there’s something good to look forward to at the end of the trip.
Philip L. Levin, M.D. is a Coast-based physician and writer. He is president of the Gulf Coast Writers Association and is the author of numerous award-winning stories and poems, many nonfiction articles, and eight published books, including two children’s books.