Oh, the distress and worry that begins the feverish panic of the homesickness bug! It typically bites the week before camp for most parents and campers and hits its highest peak by day two of camp. Unless quarantined, the homesick bug runs rampant and causes quite a disturbance during camp week. There is good news: homesickness is like most any other mild allergy or summer cold; it can be prevented with the right measures. If it does appear, it can be handled quickly so campers are on the mend and back to enjoying the fantastic summer activities of camp life with little disruption!
Campers who overcome homesickness and finish the entire week of summer camp successfully feel a sense of accomplishment and can also be praised for their demonstrating independence and problem solving abilities. These are life skills that 4-H residential summer camp strives to teach our youth so they can grow into successful leaders of tomorrow!
Homesickness is a normal part of overnight camp. Here are a few suggestions on how you can help manage homesickness to keep your children healthy and happy this summer!
PREPARATION IS PREVENTATIVE
By going to camp orientations, meeting with camp staff, reviewing the camp schedule, and answering questions can help your child prepare for what to expect at camp. If possible, meet with the staff in charge to discuss any issues that may be giving your child anxiety about camp, or let us know of any issues at home that may be stressing your child. This might include include being assigned to a cabin with a friend, needing a nightlight when sleeping, etc. Having children involved in these discussions with staff in private will eliminate a lot of the anxiety, and in turn, reduce the chances and/or intensity of homesickness.
You can also allow your child to demonstrate independence early by letting them pack their own camp suitcase. This will allow them to feel more in control of their situation and the decisions they are going to make for a week, boosting their confidence. (Of course, you will want to check the bag for items they may have forgotten.)
POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IS REASSURANCE
Parents can unwittingly set their children up for homesickness failure before camp even begins with just a few simple negative statements. Statements from parents expressing their anxiety or sadness about their children leaving home can be damaging and ultimately lay a foundation homesickness. Please don’t be this parent. Instead, reassure your child they’ll do great at camp, and reinforce that they will learn new things and become more independent.
CONFIDENCE IS CONTAGIOUS
Parents, remain confident from the time you sign your child up for camp until his/her children return home. Emphasize the positives of the camping experience such as making new friends, learning new activities, swimming, etc. Keep your camper excited about the experience to help diminish the anxiety associated with the week.
Avoid giving your child the option of going home early from summer camp if he/she gets upset, sad, or homesick. Instead, speak with the 4-H agent to discuss possible actions that can be taken to remedy the emotions that the camper is feeling. Only as a very last resort should the parent speak with the child when a child is homesick; more often than not, it makes the homesickness worse.
One of the hardest things to do may be one of the most important aspects of a successful summer camp for your child: trust your camping staff. From the beginning of the camp sign-up process, you can meet with your 4-H Agent or person overseeing the camping week. This will help you and your child feel more comfortable in their camp week. It will also help your 4-H Agent or lead staffer know more about their campers!
4-H residential summer camps are designed to support positive youth development to develop independence, promote a sense of belonging in a group setting, encourage generosity, and facilitate the mastery of targeted life skills. Programs at camp teach 4-H’s fundamental approach of “learn by doing” through safe, fun, educational environments.