Monday, June 28, 2010

Dealing with Homesickness at Camp or College

In the past, parents and doctors have thought homesickness was an unavoidable part of childhood. In fact, 95% of boys and girls report feeling homesick at summer camp. Mild homesickness may remit spontaneously after a few days, but severe homesickness typically worsens over time.

Summer camp is an expensive experience and highly rewarding. But homesickness can ruin your child¹s camp stay. It doesn't have to be that way at camp or when you send them off to college.

On Monday Brenda Hyde, Publisher of FAMILY Magazine, was on WUSA9 to share with parents more about this topic.

So how do parents prevent homesickness if it is universal?

There are ways parents can anticipate and lessen the distress that homesickness can cause among kids and teens at summer camps, hospitals, boarding schools and colleges so that homesickness will not get in the way of the important character-building lessons that these experiences bring.


Talk About It

Talk to kids about the experience ahead of any separation, whether it's for camp, college or a hospital stay of even a few days. What you say beforehand matters and it is very important for the intensity of homesickness.

Homesickness Is Normal

One of the most important things for parents and doctors to recognize, and to say to kids before any separation, is that it's normal, not strange, to feel homesick. In fact, research has shown that 90 percent of children attending summer camp feel some levels of homesickness and that 20 percent face a serious level of distress that, if untreated, worsens over time and interferes with their ability to benefit from a camp experience.

Involve the Child

Involve children in the decision to spend time away from home, so that they have a sense of control.

Arrange for a practice time away from home. This would be extremely important for a child who might not have gone to summer camp and is heading off to college.

Learn About Camp
Work with the child to learn about the camp or school so they know what to
anticipate. Try to meet other campers.

Know if Your Child is Ready
Above all, know whether your child is really ready for a separation. If you are not sure, ask their doctor, but not while the child can hear the conversation.


Take Action – Camper
Do something fun, such as play with friends, to forget about homesick feelings.

Do something (write a letter, look at a family picture) to feel closer to home.

Go see someone who can talk with you to help you feel better.

Think about the good side of things (activities, friends) to feel better.

Think that time away is actually pretty short to make time go by faster.

Try not to think about home and loved ones to forget about homesickness.

Think about loved ones to figure out what they would say to help.

Take Action - Parents

Parents ¬ write your child and suggest these action items.

No Telephone Calls or Texting

At summer camps, anecdotal evidence suggests that telephone calls, and to a lesser extent instant messaging, exacerbate homesickness during relatively short stays away from home. Such real-time correspondence also erodes the burgeoning independence that camps and trips are designed to nurture. Therefore, parents are strongly discouraged from insisting they talk with their homesick child during a short stay away. Chances are great that such contact will only increase the distress for both parties. Old-fashioned
letters may be the best way to maintain contact with home. They lack the emotionally quality of a telephone call, and they require narrative reflection, which promotes understanding of one¹s experience. Keeping a journal also helps.


Under no circumstances of planned, recreational separations from home should parents ever make a "pick-up deal" with their son or daughter.48 Promising that "if you don¹t like it, I¹ll come pick you up" reduces the child’s likelihood of success for several reasons. First, the subtext of such deals is "I have so little confidence in your ability to cope with this normal response to separation that I believe the only solution is for me to rescue you." Such expressions of anxiety and doubt contradict the recommended expressions of optimism and confidence outlined above. Second, such deals plant the seeds of homesickness by giving young people the expectation that they will not like the new place. Negative separation attitudes are powerful predictors of homesickness. Third, such deals prevent the development of effective coping by pointing young people toward an escape route. Fourth, such deals paralyze surrogate caregivers who, after enthusiastic support and coaching, may be faced with a child who says, "My parents said that if I didn’t like it here, they would come to get me." Parents are then faced with 2 equally unsatisfactory choices: (1) fulfill their promise, pick the child up, and deprive him or her of a wonderful opportunity to grow and develop; or (2) renege on their promise and suffer an erosion of trust in their relationship with the child.

All in all, summer camp and other separations from home can be great "life training" experiences for children, building their independence and teaching self-reliance and social skills that they'll use throughout life.

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