Working Through Homesickness

Beginning the journey of sleepaway camp is exciting.  Campers can’t wait to meet new friends, try all of the amazing activities, and build lifelong memories. But along with all the excitement can come concerns of homesickness.  Campers may worry that they will miss home and family so much that they won’t be able to make it at sleepaway camp.  Not to worry, experiencing homesickness at camp is normal.  In a study done by the American Camp Association (ACA), nearly 96% of campers who were spending two or more weeks at overnight camp reported some homesickness on at least one day.  The majority of campers recover relatively quickly when they are engaged in the camp community.

Campers with homesickness can still have a successful and wonderful camp experience. Homesickness typically pops up during downtime, like rest hour and bedtime. Campers can be laughing, singing and enjoying the day, but then there is a lull in activities, and a feeling of sadness can creep up and take over.  They may miss mom and dad, the dog, their bed, or just the familiarity of home.  Being homesick can be difficult, but the good news is that overcoming homesickness builds confidence and nurtures independence.  It’s a great accomplishment and a very powerful learning experience.

Parents often ask, “How do you handle a homesick camper?” They of course want to be reassured that their child feels happy, safe, and comfortable when they are at their summer home.  The staff training at Iroquois Springs includes preventing and dealing with homesickness.  Staff know how to identify homesickness and how to help campers feel cared for, understood, and involved in camp life.  Staff are taught strategies and interventions to help campers cope with and conquer feelings of homesickness.  

In addition to the tools we use at camp to help campers feel more comfortable, there are steps families can take at home, and guidance on what kids can do at camp, to better manage homesickness if it occurs.    

Before camp begins…

Practice Sleeping Out – Have your child gain some experience sleeping away from home. Plan a sleepover at a friend or relative’s house for a night or weekend.

Talk Things Over – If your child expresses concern about feeling homesick, listen and remind them that these feelings are normal and they will be ok.  Give them the confidence that they will work through these feelings. Do not offer to pick them up if they are unhappy. It will send the message that you don’t believe in them and may lessen their confidence.  Focus on the positive and how excited you are for them to have this opportunity.

Get Familiar with Camp – Watch the camp video and familiarize your camper with everything at camp, from the bunks and key staff members, to all the incredible activities, events, and traditions they will be participating in.  If you are able, attend the New Family Orientation, where you can tour the grounds, meet staff, and be introduced to other new camp families. 

Bring something from home – Pack your child’s favorite stuffed animal, pillow or blanket, and a few pictures of family and friends to feel a connection to home and loved ones.

Once at Camp…

Participate – The more activities campers get involved in and the more fun they are having, the less time they will think about home.  Camp activities are a lot of fun and a great distraction for homesick campers.  When campers stay active during the day, they are more likely to fall asleep quickly at night. 

Write Letters – Keep in touch with family and friends at home by writing letters.  Pack pre-addressed stamped envelopes, so your camper can stay in touch and tell everyone the fun things they are doing and the amazing friends they have made.  Be sure to write back as often as possible with words of encouragement and understanding.

Reach out to a Counselor – Sometimes, just telling someone else how you feel can make it better. Counselors listen and help campers come up with strategies to work through homesickness.  Talking with a counselor can be comforting and empowering.

Don’t Forget Friends – Friends also understand what it’s like to miss home and can be a great support.  Friendships that develop at camp bring a feeling of security and trust, and that feeling of belonging can lessen feelings of homesickness. 

The camp experience and overcoming homesickness can be very significant in a young person’s life. Working through difficult feelings is a great learning opportunity, especially when it’s accomplished independently. Michael Thompson, PhD, author of Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, believes that “working through feeling homesick, and the normal anxiety of being away from home, is one of the most important and common developmental milestones kids can face in growing independent.”  This book is packed with such important and helpful information, that we mail a copy of Homesick and Happy to all incoming IS families to help them prepare for their campers first summer at sleepaway camp.   

We send our children to overnight camp to experience friendship and fun, develop greater independence, increase resilience, and become stronger individuals.  Even if they experience homesickness along the way, these feelings will challenge them to grow, and get through it with a new sense of self-confidence.  Being able to work past feelings of homesickness creates a strength that comes from doing what you thought you couldn’t.