After dropping off your child at camp, it can be hard to patiently wait for the first letter from your daughter. But what if you get one that reads like this:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Camp is terriabl. I am homesick almost every minnut. I tried evrything, and nothing works. I need to come home rite now! Please, please, please come and get me today!
First – don’t panic. In a study by Dr. Chris Thurber, THE expert on homesickness, he found that a whopping 83 percent of the campers studied reported homesickness on at least one day of camp.
Secondly – please CALL camp and make us aware of the situation, which we are probably well aware of. And how do we handle homesickness?
This is the step where we can partner with parents.
- Encourage your daughter’s independence throughout the year. Practice separations, such as sleepovers at a friend’s house, can simulate the camp environment.
- Discuss what camp will be like before your daughter leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom.
- Camp Newaygo has a no-phone-calls policy – tell your daughter you will honor it. Sending your child with a cell phone prevents independence, shows a lack of respect for camp rules, and also doesn’t allow us to help solve any problems. We’ve had parents show up in the dead of night because campers texted them desperate homesick messages. When the parents arrived, the camper actually FORGOT she texted them and was fast asleep.
- Send emails to your camper. Acknowledge, in a positive way, that you will miss her For example, you can say “I am going to miss you, but I know that you will have a good time at camp.”
- Under no circumstances should parents ever make a “pick-up deal”. Promising that “if you don’t like it, I’ll come pick you up” reduces the child’s likelihood of success. This promise says: “I have so little confidence in your ability to cope with this normal response to separation that I believe the only solution is for me to rescue you.”The deal plants the seeds of homesickness by giving campers the expectation that they will not like the new place. It prevents development of effective coping by pointing children toward an escape route. And it paralyzes counselors/leaders who, after enthusiastic support and coaching, may be faced with a child who says, “My parents said that if I didn’t like it here, they would come to get me.” Parents are then faced with 2 equally unsatisfactory choices: (1) fulfill their promise, pick the child up, and deprive him or her of a wonderful opportunity to grow and develop; or (2) renege on their promise and suffer an erosion of trust in their relationship with the child.
When a camper tells a counselor she is feeling homesick, the first thing a counselor does is console her and allow her to express her feelings. We tell campers homesickeness is perfectly normal, and nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. We coach campers through strategies to overcome the situation. We encourage them to join into activities (like classes, evening programs). We help them write a letter home. We buddy them up with a new friend. We focus them on the positives and ask them to think about all the reasons they like camp. We continue to follow up with campers and encourage them to ask for help if they are feeling sad.
3. Partner with Parents
If a child isn’t able to overcome homesickness on her own, you will get a call from me – (Jalisa). Don’t let this call scare you. What we have found is that girls who feel they have no way to connect to home and let them know something is wrong, feel out of control and desperate. We offer to make a call home for the child. We will explain the severity of homesickness, and ask for a special “pep-talk” we can pass along to the camper. Something along the lines of “Home is SO boring. Your brother is being EVEN MORE annoying than usual and we are eating that Tai food that you HATE” We find that as soon as we pass on this encouraging message from mom/dad, the camper feels SO much better. Just to know that parents support them and that home will still be the same after camp is a huge comfort. What we don’t do – is let campers call home. Why? Because hearing mom’s voice is going to make them feel WORSE. Really. Research proves it. And can you imagine, getting a call from your precious child – sobbing on the other line, BEGGING you to come get her. Could you hold up under that pressure? We don’t want you to have to go through that. That’s what we’re trained to handle, and we are happy to help your amazing child gain independence and skills for life.
4. Provide An Example
So what kind of email do you send when you receive that heartbreaking homesick letter? Try this:
I just got off the phone with Jalisa from Camp Newaygo. She said that she made a promise to you that she would call me and tell me everything you told her and you hoped I would pick you up from camp. Jalisa did tell me you were homesick and cried because you were missing me. My heart is very sad that you’re feeling this way and I want you to know how much I love you and I will always love you. Also, you need to know that I totally understand. Although I didn’t go to camp, I did leave my family and friends for an entire year when I backpacked around the world! I missed my mom, dad and friends so much. But I decided I had a choice – I could either swallow my homesickness and make a huge effort to enjoy it, or I could go home and never get to experience what it felt like to conquer my fears and meet new friends, try adventures and see exciting places. I’m not going to pick you up. You are a strong, independent, fun loving, kind girl. You will get through this and I PROMISE you within a day or so, you will be loving every second of camp. The best way to overcome feeling homesick is to stay as busy as you can. Try every activity that you can and realize that this is such a fantastic opportunity for you. Plus, it is HOT and boring right now here. I’m at work all day and you’d be bored silly if you were here. I’m also so happy that you’ve been able to try Paddleboarding. Did you enjoy that? Please let me know every fun activity you do and all about your fun friends you’ve met. I promise to write you every day. You will have a whole slew of emails coming! Be strong, have fun and know that I am so very proud of you and love you very much!!!! Now…chin up, big smile and get to your next activity! I will see you on closing day.
I Love you,
You are always MORE than welcome to call camp, simply for an update on your child. You have entrusted us with your most prized possession, and we take that honor very seriously. And always remember – no news is good news. If you don’t get a letter from your camper, it probably ended up in the river after canoeing, or fell out of her pocket on the zipline, or maybe she was too busy making lifelong friends to sit down long enough to write your address.
We handle homesickness everyday at Camp Newaygo. We believe campers can be Homesick AND Happy, and gain lifetime skills at Newaygo.