Summer Camp Blues
Receiving a tearful phone call or a sad note from your child away at camp can pull at your heart strings. Dealing with homesickness is often a source of stress for parents. It’s very common. Camps have been dealing with it for generations.
Homesickness is a normal response when separated from a familiar environment. About 90 percent of young people spending time away from home reported some sad feelings1; 20 percent experienced moderate-to-severe homesickness; about 7 percent experienced debilitating levels of homesickness.2,3 Higher levels of homesickness can be related to age. Children with less camp experience had a lower perceived ability to manage homesickness, less involvement in the decision to attend camp and fewer adaptive coping strategies, such as writing a letter to parents.4
Homesickness can be a short-term interruption to an otherwise positive experience; kids often look forward to returning to camp the following year. Knowing this can put your mind at ease. Before camp starts, here are some suggestions to help you prepare:
- Decide in advance what you will do. Since most homesickness subsides within a day or two, your initial plan may be simply to talk to the camp director and to encourage your child to stay at camp.
- Make a backup plan. A small percentage of kids develop more serious symptoms such as incessant crying, and problems with eating and sleeping for several days in a row. If that should happen to your child, make a backup plan as to how you will handle it.
- Address worries as your child brings them up. Help him or her apply the principles of knowing the facts and making a plan. Visit the camp’s website and share what you know about the area and the people there.
- Remind your kids that camp is fun. Have him or her imagine themselves in that environment, having fun and learning new things.
- Resist the urge to offer a solution immediately. If he has specific concerns, such as, “What if I miss you?” help him figure out a couple things that he can do if that happens. It’s better if the ideas come from your child.
- Prepare with sleepovers. If your child has never spent a night away from you, arrange for some sleepovers with friends. The first couple of times you might call or text one another. But work toward being away from each other without contact, because that’s how it’s going to be at camp.
- Plan for your first days without your child. The house is going to feel very empty when your child leaves. Knowing this in advance and making plans will help you weather your own child-away-from-home sickness.
If you would like some additional strategies for addressing common developmental challenges, consult with a psychologist. A licensed professional can help you develop a plan to address challenges and strengthen your parenting skills.
This Help Center article was adapted from a June 2012 post by Pauline Wallin, PhD, on APA’s Your Mind Your Body Blog. Ron Palomares, PhD, also assisted with this article.
- Thurber, C. A., & Walton, E. (2007). Preventing and treating homesickness. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 119, 1-10.
- Thurber, C. A., Sigman, M. D., Weisz, J. R., & Schmidt, C. K. (1999). Homesickness in preadolescent and adolescent girls: Risk factors, behavioral correlates, and sequelae. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 28, 185-196.
- Thurber, C. A. (1995). The experience and expression of homesickness in preadolescent and adolescent boys. Child Development, 66, 1162-1178.
- Thurber, C. A., & Weisz, J. R. (1997). “You can try or you can just give up”: The impact of perceived control and coping style on childhood homesickness. Developmental Psychology, 33, 508–517.