I find it somewhat fascinating how my role at camp has evolved over the years. I started in 1997 because the Out of Camp Program Director position opened up. I was traveling, backpacking, skiing and waitressing, and the position was the perfect fit for me as it was time for me to settle down with a “real job”. That role has since been passed on to younger and tougher folk and I find myself in this wonderful position of quality control over the parent and camper service. I love speaking with our new families about their concerns and their excitements. Now as we quickly move into the summer, I am a new camp parent myself.
Yikes! I am a camp parent! How did this happen? So, with a different vantage point, I am updating my Homesickness Guide. With this being a concern of many, I find it helpful to address it from three different angles: campers, parents, and the support team (your camper’s counselors). The school year is coming to a frantic close, and there is some prep work that you can do now to support your camper on their next venture of camp.
Let them take an active role in selecting their summer experience. Involve them in purchasing camp equipment and packing. Make sure they have watched the video and follow up with any questions they have. It is normal to be nervous. If the anxiety is overwhelming, you may need to re-evaluate to determine if camp is the right fit for this summer.
When they attend sleepovers, have your children pack their own bags, and don’t text them while they are there to see how they are doing. Campers at camp will pack for overnight camping trips and will communicate with family through letters. If your child is particularly plugged into technology, have him or her take mini-vacations now to ease into being technology-free.
Campers will have the opportunity to hike, ride, climb and backpack on amazing and challenging trails. If you have purchased hiking boots, take a long walk together in them to break them in and prevent blisters while on the trail at camp. If campers are in an older unit and are interested in mountain biking, take some bike rides at home.
Goals and Awesome Opportunities
Have campers write down their goals, what are they excited about, and what they want to gain from this experience.
Experiencing homesickness is natural and inevitable and overcoming it is triumphant. A good home deserves to be missed! By acknowledging it together before your camper leaves, you are giving them the message that you are aware that these feelings might happen and you also know that they have the ability to get through it. Don’t avoid the subject- talk it through and figure out how they can get to a happy place, if needed. Write down the plan and tuck it in their luggage. Some ideas might be: a happy book, taking 10 deep breaths,garcinia cambogia and green coffee, traveling to a place you love in your mind, packing a certain stuffed animal or picture, thinking of your favorite memory, shooting hoops or tossing a football. Remind them that they are capable of this wonderful independence, and to have fun. Your plan should NOT be, “Just give it a couple of days and if you do not like it, we will come get you.” This will set them up to just give it a couple of days and knock the confidence right out of them.
If you have apprehensions now, work to resolve them. If you are worried that your camper is not going to know anyone, set up a pre-camp get together with local campers. If there are no local campers, set up a Skype call or FaceTime. If you are worried about your camper’s medical needs, become friendly with the nurse. If you are anxious about your son or daughter’s food allergies, talk it through with the Camp Director or Head Cook. Do whatever you need to do to work through your concerns. Make sure there is only support, excitement and optimism coming from you, and share your anxiety and worry with another trustworthy adult. Make a camper-sick plan for yourself.
Hello you! Aside from the camper benefits, what will you gain from this experience? A vacation, time to organize, time to have one-on-one time with your other children, some date nights with your spouse or friends, a chance for a new class? The time will go by fast.
Do Your Part So We Can Do Ours
Read and complete your paperwork. It helps us on our end to better prepare for your child. Follow the packing list- we review it every year to make sure we are still on target. Securely write your camper’s name on every item, this way we can return cozy layers to your camper when they are misplace at camp.
Pack some self-addressed envelopes in their luggage or a pre-written letter with fill in the blanks of the information you are interested in. For example, my favorite counselor is ______. My least favorite meal so far is _______. Give them the opportunity to share both positives and negatives. Let your camper know what to expect as far as letters and emails. You do not need to write every day, but let them know what to expect from you. We do not arrange phone calls in homesick cases. We have found they only exasperate the issue.
Whether you are sending them on a plane or dropping them off at camp, please refrain from bawling until they can longer see you. If you are driving into camp, you are welcome to poke around, meet and chat with the staff and minimally help them get settled. If you are helping to organize their socks, keep in mind that you want them to know, that you know, they can soar without you. Take a deep breath, trust and remind yourself that you are giving an awesome gift to your child.
You rock and let me repeat that you are giving an incredible gift to your child by letting go. There are a lot of parents out there that cannot let their children go away to camp. You are preparing them for college and beyond; you are giving them the freedom to gain confidence, independence and leadership skills; and you are instilling in them that they can overcome challenges. I cannot promise you that they won’t lose their socks or water bottle, that their hair or nails will be perfectly well-kept, that they will love every meal and adore every counselor, or that they will spend their time at camp free from disappointment or rainy days. You might get a homesick letter with circled tear drops on it. Don’t panic: trust them, trust us and know that is often a wonderful part (and sometimes difficult part) of the process. If you are worried, please know that we are more than happy to check on your camper.
The Support Team: (How will the staff nurture my child if he/she is homesick?)
They will assure them that feelings of homesickness are natural and common. It is a wonderful thing to love your home and if missing it is a reflection of love, then maybe there is a silver lining there. They are lucky to have a home and family they love and miss.
They will infuse confidence in the campers and cheer them on, by affirming that they have the ability to get through this and that their family believes in them as well. They will work with the campers to see that this is a huge opportunity for growth and confidence, and that bouts of homesickness are usually brief and will subside as they settle into the camp experience.
They will devise a plan with the campers by pinpointing what times of the day are they homesick; what activities, campers or counselors will help them get through these homesick periods; and they will work to keep them focused on the positive as well as busy with fun activities. They will again remind them that these are life-long skills that they are working on, and that this will help prepare them for the future.
Call for Back Up
They will enlist a non-homesick camper to help them engage a homesick camper in positive games and fun. If they are out of counselor magic, they will get another counselor or director to take over.
As always, we are here for you. We consider ourselves your partners. We are grateful and honored to have your campers with us for the summer. We strive to provide an awesome summer experience and we continue to love what we do!