“After they settle down and go to sleep, they’re usually fine,” says Jackie Cawson, camp director at Outward Bound Canada. Cawson points out that children take about three days to get into the rhythm of camp, and then homesickness is usually no longer an issue.
But campers can get help from their camp friends and staff. With the goal of encouraging children to be self-sufficient and independent, camps are experts at helping kids deal with homesickness. They are trained to spot the signs of homesickness — headaches, stomachaches, anxiety — and to counsel children who need it.
These counsellors are not only friends but also patient and sympathetic mentors. “They know that the best medicine is to keep their camper busy, urge them to cope with one day at a time and reassure them that others have experienced what they are feeling, but they soon recovered,” Ross explains.
Whether or not homesickness strikes, camp staff ensure a smooth transition for new campers right from the start. Orientation and a guided tour help children become familiar and comfortable with the camp. If a camper is homesick, the director and the entire staff are made aware of the situation so that everyone can be supportive and encouraging.
In addition, shorter stays are a great way to get young children comfortable with the idea of camp, like the two-night Kindercamp for four- to six-year-olds at Camp Tanamakoon in Algonquin.
“Our experience, almost without exception, is that kids are not homesick. They’re very busy,” explains Kim Smith, owner-director, who believes short stays are the perfect introduction to camp. “It also means that when the child comes to a two-week camp for the first time, the transition is relatively simple,” he says.
And a little preparation before leaving home can go a long way to relieving a child’s worries. Here are some tips to help combat homesickness.
Steps toward dealing with summer camps and homesickness
Some ways help ensure the only thing that might dampen your camper’s spirits is the weather:
Trial run: Start with short overnighters at the home of a friend or relative to get your child used to being away from home.
Know go: Decide on the camp as a family. Children will feel better about the situation if they’re able to help choose their destination.
On the agenda: Discuss what camp will be like and what fun things are available to do there. Some camps may offer a sample schedule you can go over together.
Home sense: Pack something from home, such as a favourite family photo or a stuffed animal.
Ready, set, activity: Remind your child that staying busy while at camp is the best way to keep from thinking about what’s happening at home.
Write stuff: Send along a journal to record camp memories, as well as notepaper and stamped envelopes to write to friends and family.
On call: Find out the camp’s policies on mail, e-mail, phone calls and visiting days, and share them with your child so there are no false expectations. Offer reassurance that counsellors are there round the clock to help out, and that the camp will call home in case of a real emergency.
How rewarding: Don’t offer bribes for a successful stay at camp. Your child’s newfound confidence and independence will be reward enough.
Parents sending children off for the first time often have as much separation anxiety — or more — than their children. But they should remember camp is about the kids, and not them, Smith says.
“I’m a parent myself, and when I hear ‘I just couldn’t be without her for two weeks,’ my answer is that it isn’t about the parent being without the child, it’s about the child doing something that is going to be a lifetime experience.”
Give your kids a Summer Camp experience this year. Find top camp for kids and teens at www.ourkids.net/camp