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Homesick Campers

Should they start packing?
When should homesick children leave residential summer camp and return home? This decision is usually a tough call for parents. Some homesick feelings are common to most campers, even kids who've camped before. Young first-timers often have trouble dealing with family separation-anxieties and fears. Adolescent campers may miss their girlfriends and boyfriends back home.

Camp should not be considered an emotional ordeal or rite of passage that must be endured, but the experience does foster resilience when children show themselves to be capable of coping with and recovering from homesickness at camp.

Your child may ask you to take her home at any time during her camp experience. She may want to come home within the first few days of her stay, simply because she misses the stability of her home and family. She might want to leave immediately after an unpleasant social incident or because she is the "only" child in her bunk who hasn't made a best buddy within the first week. There are also those moments at bedtime when kids predictably feel more sad and homesick than usual, even after a great day at camp.

When talking about instances like these with your child, empathize with her, encourage her to talk about what's going well at camp, and ask her to "hang in there" for a couple of days, as you enlist the help of the camp's director, counseling staff, and counselors. Parents should discuss how a camp director handles homesickness when selecting summer camps for your child. Avoid camps where directors communicate an insensitive, tough-it-out attitude toward homesickness.

When it's time to come home The intensity and frequency of your child's homesickness are the two key variables to consider when determining whether to take her home. If the following behaviors persist for several consecutive days despite your coordinated best efforts with the camp's director, I would seriously consider taking your child home from camp:

  • Isolating herself from and/or avoiding contact with her peers.

  • Repeatedly declining invitations from staff and fellow campers to participate in any camp activities.

  • Daily talk about running away or wanting to go home.

  • A sad demeanor that is present throughout the day and evening.

  • No positive responses to counselors' attempts to help her form friendships or participate in camp activities.

    When a camp director calls to ask you to take your child home, camp officials believe that they have exhausted their efforts to make this a good experience for your child. If you receive such a call, it's time to bring your child home.

    If you do take your homesick child home from camp, don't shame her. She will already be dealing with guilt and embarrassment about leaving camp. Tell her that you understand why she didn't like camp, emphasizing that camp isn't an experience that all kids enjoy. She shouldn't be told that she's a "baby," that she wasted your money, that she disappointed you, or that she ruined your summer plans with your spouse. Start soliciting ideas from her and offering your own suggestions as to how she can enjoy the remainder of her summer vacation. Both of you need to remember that there's life beyond summer camp.

    More on: Summer Camp

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