While there are no easy answers, here are 8 parenting advice to help calm anxiety in children when they’re feeling homesick at camp.
1. Leave a note for your child to read the first night or as early as possible
Often the first night and the first few days are the hardest and loneliest for kids at camp. The fatigue of getting to and settled at camp, mixed with all the newness of camp, can tempt kids to feel overwhelmed, and miss home even if they are enjoying themselves.
A personal note from you can be a real comfort, especially when it reminds them it is ok to miss home and also have fun — that’s part of being at camp — and that being on their own will get easier in the coming days.
2. Aim to write to your child often
Try to do so every day in the beginning, even if it is just a short e-mail or note. Loadsharing refers to the sharing of stress across a close relationship. By frequently communicating with your child, you help share their load and encourage your child to know he can handle the adventure of camp.
Knowing you are thinking about them as much as they are thinking of you (or more!) can help them feel the embrace of home through the rhythm of written communication.
I love the email feature some large camps offer because I can copy and paste many elements of the letters I write to each child. I have also dictated and printed notes to them to quickly mail off — much faster than handwriting.
Of course, sometimes I goof and miss a day or send the wrong letter to the wrong child, and luckily, we all have a good laugh over it. I like to think witnessing my mistakes, in general, allows them to be more accepting of themselves, including their uncomfortable feelings.
3. Highlight encouragement about camp
Tell them how proud you are of them being at camp, how excited you are for them to have fun new adventures, and how interested you are in hearing about what they are learning and doing.
More important than simply shaping what you want them to write about in their letters to you, you are encouraging them to focus on the positive aspects of being at camp. This is a key strategy of dealing effectively with homesickness.
4. Downplay fun at home
Try not to focus too much on the parts of home you know your child might miss. Focus, instead, on the things your child generally isn’t fond of.
For example, “Things are pretty quiet here. Dad and I are getting some projects done around the house and catching up on chores” rather than “Dad and I had a lot of fun last weekend with the Smiths on the boat. The usual gang was there and asked all about you. Wish you could have been with us!!”
Instead of talking about how much fun you may be having, ask them about what fun they are having.
5. Share your feelings positively
Especially if you are feeling any of the same positive feelings your child might be, share them. When I have had opportunities to be courageous in trying something new while my kids are away, I always try to share it with them as a way of modeling how good it feels to use anxiety to solve challenges they might also be facing.
When it comes to your feelings about them, likewise keep them positive. Of course, tell them that you love them, but avoid telling them you miss them, or that it was hard for you to say goodbye, etc.
Worrying about your feelings can compound any anxiety or distress they might be feeling, and is generally ill-advised. Instead, stick to encouraging them to make the most of their time at camp, and remind them how fast the time will fly by.
6. If you get a homesick letter, take a deep breath and consider getting more information
Assuming you get a letter that was written several days ago, rather than an urgent phone call from camp, consider the real possibility that things are considerably better now than they were when she wrote her plea to come home.
At least check the facts before you get too far down the path of troubleshooting how to get her home. A call to camp can give you an objective assessment of how your child is doing and can help you know how to best respond.
By building off an intention to understand your child’s experiences, rather than judge or change them, the support you give will be enough for your child to hold herself up as she faces camp (and eventually the world) on her own.
7. Expect to worry, and possibly doubt yourself, if your child is actively homesick
Any reasonable parent would worry, and possibly doubt their months-long decision to send a child to camp when they hear first-hand their child’s misery and suffering. Understanding your child’s pain and wanting to stop it is part of what makes you a responsive, loving parent.
But, making room for your child to work through this challenge and take care of himself is also part of being a great parent.
It is possible that your child being unhappy is part of you doing the right thing — allowing them the opportunity to cultivate courage in coping with his feelings about facing something new and being away from home.
Trusting our instincts — and our worry — can become a well-tuned resource for navigating the ever-shifting demands of parenting.
8. Respond to your child’s request to come home carefully
Many camps offer fantastic advice and resources on how to help your child cope with homesickness, and especially requests to come home.
One of my favorites is from Rockbrook Camp for Girls on how to respond to a homesick child’s letter. I don’t think I could have penned a more perfect letter myself, and reading another parent’s correspondence can help you create your own response should you need to.
There are circumstances where homesickness can be serious enough to warrant coming home, especially if there are extenuating family circumstances or serious emotional challenges that can make staying at camp too hard.
But, if after getting the facts and knowing your child, you think he can handle feeling homesick, research shows he’ll be better off sticking it out at camp, with the help of your support and encouragement from home.