Even happy campers get homesick

As summer camp season nears, you may wonder if your child is ready to handle so much time away from home. Relax, experts say. Homesickness is as natural at camp as making new friends or getting the midnight giggles.

"Younger kids tend to get more severely homesick than older kids, because they have less previous experience away from home and less sophisticated coping mechanisms," says psychologist Christopher Thurber, PhD, co-author of The Summer Camp Handbook. "But 95 percent of all children who spend time away from home at a resident camp report being homesick on at least one day."

Loneliness and uneasiness are especially likely among first-time campers. Girls are more likely to experience homesickness even with previous camp experience.

Dr. Thurber and counselors say you can help ease those feelings:

  • Before camp, set up a "practice" time away from home, such as an overnight at a friend's house.
  • Consider having your child attend camp with a close friend or relative.
  • Discuss what camp will be like—your child may need a flashlight to find the bathroom, for example—and how you will stay in touch.
  • Let your child take a favorite stuffed animal, photo or other reminder of home.
  • Resist pick-up deals. "Never say, 'If you feel homesick, I'll come and get you,'" Dr. Thurber says. That tells kids you don't trust them to cope.
  • If homesickness occurs, acknowledge your child's feelings and offer your love. Say, for instance, that if the feelings remain in a few days, you'll talk about what to do. If problems linger, talk with the camp director. Then, with staff help, aid your child's efforts to adjust.

Healthy separation is part of growing up. "At camp, kids learn to appreciate the outdoors, develop companionship and pick up skills that enhance self-reliance, cooperation and interdependence," says psychologist and camp adviser Bruce Muchnick, EdD.

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