Homesickness: How to Prevent It, and What to Do When it Rears its Ugly Head

by • February 29, 2016 • 2016, February 2016, Summer Camps

By Kristine Emerson

It’s the phone call no parent wants to get. “Mom,” you envision yourself hearing through sobs. “I need you to come get me now.” When children get homesick, everyone suffers. Parents have to determine whether to rescue their child or encourage her to ride it out. If you pick up your child, you may lose all the money you spent on camp – not to mention the free time you thought sleep-away camp would offer.

But if you don’t rescue your child from homesickness, your relationship could suffer and yr child may endure a week or more of misery. So what’s a frazzled parent to do? The battle against homesickness begins long before you drop your child off at camp.

Ensure Your Child is Ready
The best way to prevent homesickness is to do your homework on the front end of things by ensuring your child’s ready for camp. If your child’s never spent a night away from home, wait till next year. If she has, test out her strength by sending her to grandma’s for a few nights. If she can’t make it that long, she certainly won’t survive camp.
Look also for clues in your child’s behavior. Children who are highly clingy and anxious are much more likely to get anxious. Similarly, if your child has a history of either being bullied or struggling to fit in, he may feel out of place at camp, leading to homesickness. Thus it’s important to choose a camp where your child’s skills will be appreciated, rather than trying to challenge him by sending him to a camp focused on skills he does not have.

Plan for the Worst
No matter how ready you think your child might be for camp, planning your life around a week or longer away from your child is just begging for trouble. Don’t book an expensive vacation or plan to spend all week at the spa. And don’t even think about doing anything that takes you out of cell phone service for longer than an hour or two. If your child gets mildly homesick and can’t reach you, this can trigger the kind of homesickness that necessitates a last-minute rescue. Don’t risk it by making yourself unavailable!

Evaluate the Severity of Homesickness
Not all homesickness episodes are the same. Maybe your child just felt anxious for a moment and wanted to talk to her mom. If your child calls you saying she’s homesick, it’s up to you to evaluate the severity of her homesickness. Begin by letting her know that, if things get too bad, you’re happy to come and get her. Then ask her if she can try to tough it out another night. If she bursts into tears, it’s probably a lost cause. But if she’s willing to give it a try, you may not have to go get her. Some signs that it may be time to load up the car and pick your child up from camp include:

  • He is sobbing and inconsolable.
  • She tells you she needs to come home.
  • He has nothing good to say about camp, has not made any friends, and is not enjoying the activities.
  • She is unwilling to give it even a little time.
  • The camp counselor says your child is more upset than most homesick kids.

Show Your Child You’re Worthy of Trust
It can be frustrating to throw down a wad of cash on camp, only to have to trek halfway across the state to get your child a day or two later. But your child’s homesickness is a chance to strengthen your bond. If you leave your homesick child at camp, you show him you can’t be trusted to rescue him when he needs it. This has far-reaching implications, especially when he reaches his teen years and may need to confide in you about serious issues, such as drugs and sex.

Show your child you’re worthy of trust by going to get him. Remember, kids aren’t always able to predict their own reactions, and homesickness feels absolutely terrible. Don’t berate your child for his feelings. Instead, tell him it’s ok to get scared and anxious, and reassure him that he can try again in a year or two when he’s ready.

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