This summer, millions of children will get their first taste of independence at a summer resident camp.
For many, it also will be their first experience with homesickness. But parents don’t have to feel helpless when homesickness strikes.
Here are some tips from the American Camp Association and Dr. Christopher Thurber, a psychologist:
Encourage your child’s independence throughout the year. Practice separations, such as sleepovers at a friend’s house, can simulate the camp environment.
Involve your child in choosing a camp. The more that the child owns the decision, the more comfortable the child will feel.
Discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom.
Send a note or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp. Acknowledge, in a positive way, that you will miss your child. For example, you can say, “I am going to miss you, but I know that you will have a good time at camp.”
Don’t bribe. Linking a successful stay at camp to a material object sends the wrong message. The reward should be your child’s newfound confidence and independence.
Pack a personal item from home, such as a stuffed animal.
When a “rescue call” comes from the child, offer calm reassurance and put the time frame into perspective. Avoid the temptation to take the child home early.
Talk candidly with the camp director to obtain his/her perspective on your child’s adjustment.
Trust your instincts. While most incidents of homesickness will pass in a day or two, Thurber’s research shows that about 7 percent of the cases are severe. If your child is not eating or sleeping because of anxiety or depression, it is time to go home. However, don’t make your child feel like a failure if his stay at camp is cut short. Focus on the positive and encourage your child to try camp again next year.
More camp tips at www.campparents.org.