Summer Camp Homesickness 101: Tips for ParentsPosted by Alicia Theriault on March 04, 2019
Written by Fernwood Cove Parent Frances Phillips.
There’s no denying, homesickness is upsetting. By definition, episodes of sadness can be difficult for campers. They can be distressing for parents as well. This is especially true when it is the first time a family is experiencing intense, unpredictable emotions often seen with homesickness. But there is hope! The following tips for parents come from years of camp experience. They will help prepare parents and campers for the coming summer.
Homesickness can be a lot like the weather. It can descend fast and furious like a famous Fernwood Cove “Wanger Banger”. Or it can quietly threaten like a dark cloud that never produces rain. Similar to a passing storm, the longing for home often lifts very quickly. Bringing with it the sunshine of a joy-filled day. More often than not, by the time you receive a letter from your daughter about being homesick, her mindset has improved. Through the support of her bunk counselors and the Fernwood Cove administrative team, your daughter will likely have transitioned into camp during the days her letter was coming to you. Often waiting out the situation is the best strategy for a concerned parent.
Sometimes campers just want to “let it out”. Maybe her emotions are more an expression of discomfort with getting used to a new environment and finding her comfort zone. She may also want a moment to be heard. Stay positive. Ask questions about what kinds of activities and routines your camper is enjoying. Ask about what extraordinary new skills she is learning while at summer camp. Include questions about her counselors and fellow campers. Describing her home away from home may be a soothing practice. It will help her see that she is an expert in her new environment.
The professionals have weighed in: homesickness is elusive. Neither its causes nor its cures are well known. But experts do agree that the best prevention for missing home is actually having had a bout of homesickness and worked through it. Like any other phase of growth in a young person’s life, no one can do this for your camper. The skilled staff members at Fernwood Cove have years of experience helping campers develop and use a host of tools that are effective when moments of insecurity strike. They actively work with your daughter to clear the way for the extraordinary experience that awaits.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but parents need to put away their superhero capes. The single best tip for parents when homesickness visits a camper is to do nothing. As challenging as this can be for parents, no action is the right action. Above all, avoid making “if/then” arrangements. One of the most detrimental things a parent can do is make promises about how they will act—or react—if their child experiences some homesickness. Pick-up deals can backfire and send the wrong message to a camper who is actively developing coping skills, independence and confidence. In short, telling a camper that they have the option to return home if [fill in imaginary circumstance here] is equivalent to telling her that she is not capable of making it through the situation without a parent’s assistance. Nothing could be further than the truth. Proceed with the shared assumption that summer camp will be a success, an extraordinary experience for an extraordinary girl.
While homesickness is not life-threatening, the feelings of temporary sadness campers sometimes feel when at sleep-away camp are very real. In virtually 100% of cases, those feelings are also temporary. This does not imply that parents should discredit a camper’s expressions of emotion seriously. Parents should assure their camper that she is being heard. This will boost her feelings of mastery and maturity. And in turn reassure her that she is capable of spending time away from home, whether it’s overnight camp now or college later in life.
Don’t dwell on the negative. And don’t focus too much on things that are happening at home in a camper’s absence. Keep reports from home brief and cheerful. Going into too much detail about family, friends and pets can put the emphasis on what they are missing rather than what is most important: them! More importantly, don’t be tempted to imagine that because your daughter had a few minutes of tearfulness she is having a negative experience at summer camp. Quite the opposite! Actively encourage her focus on the amazing things happening around her and ask her about the extraordinary experiences she is having.
Be assured that the team at Fernwood Cove are old hands at this. Parents can expect to hear from a Fernwood Cove Unit Leader if there are any situations that are concerning, including severe homesickness. If at any time parents have questions about how their daughter is transitioning into life at overnight camp they can contact us. Any concerns a camper or her parents have will be immediately addressed, clearing the way for your camper to do her “job”: being extraordinary!