As exciting as the first taste of independence may be, the majority of first-time campers experience a least one day of homesickness. The American Camping Association suggests the following ways parents can prepare their children to deal with this common occurrence.
- Help your child develop independence throughout the year with sleepovers at friends’ houses and brief stays at home alone. Having a friend or relative accompany first-time campers helps them avoid homesickness. A favorite toy or blanket may do the same.
- Keep your child involved in choosing the camp they will attend. Realistically discuss what happens at camp and that there may be moments of homesickness. If possible, practice some camping skills to build confidence – camp out in a tent in the backyard or go on a hike using a compass and map.
- Don’t make promises to bring the child home early, "if you don’t like it" because that encourages them to be dissatisfied. Don’t feel guilty about encouraging the child to stay at camp. Those phone calls asking to come home are often just testing parents’ resolve. Kids dramatize the bad food, activities they hate, strict counselors, and the weird kids in their cabin. They like to blow off steam but rarely want to give up the independence they are experiencing.
- Parents should be firm and reassuring without bullying or demeaning the child’s emotions when they say a child should stay at camp. Offering the child a bribe to stay at camp sends a seriously wrong message.
- Don’t dash to the rescue. If you have decided to bring your child home, postpone the trip for two days. That’s time enough for a child to make a new best friend or excel at an activity. Overcoming limits and building confidence is what camp is all about.
- Trust your parental instincts and knowledge of the child. If the homesickness lasts several days and the camp director confirms that it is interfering with sleep or appetite, it may be time to bring the child home. Emphasize that the child hasn’t failed by cutting the stay short; instead, focus on what was enjoyable. Perhaps the child will try again next year.