Homesickness: Prevention is Better than a Cure
I've been lucky enough to be part of the CAC staff since 2002 when I joined as a Twinkie counsellor. Since then I have spent many summers in Temagami and I am currently part of the Program Staff.View all articles by Anna MacLennan
Homesickness: Prevention is Better than a Cure
There is a lot of information out there about homesickness and how it relates to the summer camp experience. I’ve spent some time researching what the experts, such as Dr. Chris Thurber whose research focuses on homesickness at camp and how to prevent it, have to say on the subject. I have summarised his wisdom in the following article (in addition to adding some tips of my own!) for your convenience.
First off, homesickness is defined as distress or impairment caused by actual or anticipated separation from home. It is characterised by acute longing and preoccupying thoughts of home and other beloved objects. Now, before you start to worry, here are some important points to bear in mind concerning homesickness:
q Mild homesickness is normal and many children have some homesickness feelings during their time away from home.
q It is very rare for children to feel severely homesick.
q Talking about homesickness will not cause homesickness, nor will it make it worse.
q There are many things that you can do before your child leaves for camp to lessen their feelings of homesickness, and to help your child feel more prepared to deal with homesickness if it happens.
q Remember that homesickness, and getting over it, is a normal and important process that helps children to develop independence and self-confidence.
Our staff at Canadian Adventure Camp are well trained to recognise and deal with the signs of homesickness, but it is much better to prevent your child feeling homesick, or at least help them feel more prepared to deal with it. Here are some hints and tips:
q Educate your child – help them understand that homesickness is normal and there are many things that they can do to feel better.
q Practice some coping strategies such as writing a letter home, talking to their counsellor or sibling or friend, reminding themselves of all the exciting things they were looking forward to doing at camp, etc.
q Practice being away from home (such as staying overnight at a friend or relative’s house) and discuss with your child how it went for them and things they need help working on.
q Don’t make a pick-up plan – it undermines a child’s confidence in their ability to cope and enjoy their camp experience.
q Discuss with your child what camp will be like before hand – consider role-playing such as using a flashlight to get ready for bed, and what living in a cabin might be like.
q Send a letter to camp ahead of time so that your child will receive it at the start of their stay. Make sure it is positive and full of encouragement.
q If your child becomes anxious leading up to their camp stay, talk about it and help them put their anxiety in perspective – everyone gets nervous when they go to camp for the first time. Talk about their specific concerns – once you know what exactly they are nervous about you can help them come up with strategies to deal with it.
q Encourage them to talk to friends who have been at camp – hearing encouragement and having questions answered by a peer may help them feel more at ease.
q Help your child put the amount of time they will be spending at camp into perspective by making a camp calendar with them.
Being concerned about how your child will deal with being away from home is natural, but it is important to make sure that they don’t take on these anxieties as well. Here are some tips to help:
q Don’t express concerns to your child – “I hope you will be OK…” or “What will I do without you?” can make your child feel guilty about being away from home or could undermine their confidence that they will be OK during their time at camp. Better things to say may include, “I know that you’ll love camp. I’m so excited to hear about your big adventure!” or “I loved going to camp when I was your age. I missed home a bit, but that is normal.”.
q Share your feelings about missing your child with another adult – never with your child. Many parents will be dealing with similar feelings and speaking about it may help you feel better.
I know that this is a lot of information to absorb! I hope that you feel better equipped to help your child deal with any feelings of homesickness they may have, and get the most out of their camp experience.
Our staff have a very important role in preventing homesickness at camp and all receive training and support to enable them to fill this role successfully. Here are some of the things that our counsellors, coaches, senior staff and directors do to prevent homesickness at camp:
q Know and use campers names from the moment that they arrive on the island.
q Go on a camp tour as a cabin group so that children know where everything is and can see the activity areas and gymnasium.
q Play games to fill any down-time on arrival day with fun, to make sure that everyone in the cabin knows each others names, and to help campers develop relationships with each other.
q Work on cabin rules as a group so that everyone is aware of expectations.
q Help children to unpack and organise themselves.
q Get to know individual children’s interests, talents, goals and personality so that they can be celebrated and encouraged.
q Make sure that children know what to expect during their camp stay – activities, special days, how scheduling works, when they will be going on their overnight... A schedule will be posted in their cabin so that they can check it whenever they want.
q Address any fears that they may have such as darkness, meeting new people, sleeping in a new place…
q Help children set goals for their stay at camp.
I hope that this article has made you feel more informed about homesickness. I hope you feel secure in the knowledge that our staff at camp are trained to prevent and deal with homesickness, and that there are many things that you can do prior to your child’s summer adventure that will help them feel more prepared. Summer camp has so much to offer children and our goal is to make sure that they make the most of it.