What causes homesickness? A child’s family is his emotional support. When a child goes away to camp, this emotional support is removed. For many, camp is the first experience of separation. Children who suffer from homesickness need to learn how to break away from traditional emotional support and move towards independence and developing a new support network.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Loneliness- sitting alone at mealtime, not participating or making an effort to get involved
- Not eating or sleeping
- Attention grabbing behaviour
How to Prevent and Deal with Homesickness:
Developing this new support system begins the first day of camp.
1. Make sure the child feels welcomed and don’t let them get lost in the crowd. Know their name, accept them and find a way to show them you care.
2. Keep the camper busy with activity. A busy camper gives them less time to think about home.
3. Have the camper get involved with games and camp traditions- this can also make it easier to make friends
4. Help the child make it through the first few nights/days. These can be the toughest. However, most campers who stay strong will tell you that it gets much easier. Getting into the swing of camp life, will make it easier to have fun.
5. Encourage the camper to become part of the group. This can make homesickness fade and hopefully the other campers will begin to feel like a second family.
6. At night, when it gets dark and the whole camp is walking towards their cabins, this is when homesickness can set in. Be on top of those campers that appear vulnerable. Stay close by the first few nights. Make sure they know that you are there, talk about everything that happened that day and all the great things that are going to happen tomorrow. Keep them thinking about camp.
7. After “lights-out,” return to the child to reassure them of your presence. Try not to mention home at all. Use phrases like “Let’s get through today and then see how you feel.”
8. You might need to get tough- sometimes this works better than the sympathetic approach. Make sure they know that going home and calling home are not an option. Tell them how they will be proud of themselves when they get through this experience. Encourage them and be positive and excited about the day ahead.
9. Allow the camper to be a leader and expert at camp. Get them to take the focus off of themselves by helping other campers. For example, “I’ve noticed that Sam hasn’t played soccer before. You seem pretty good at it. Could you play with him and help him practice?”
10. Meet with the camp director or other counselors to brainstorm ideas for helping the camper get through being homesick.
Only as a last resort would you bring the camper to the camp director.