Resources to help families prepare for the camp experience
Missing Home Before You've Dropped Them Off?
“Homesickness (or “missing home”) is normal. In study after study, researchers found that 95% of boys and girls who were spending at least two weeks at overnight camp felt some degree of homesickness….(It) is typically mild. Nearly everyone misses something about home when they’re away….the vast majority of children have a great time at camp and are not bothered by mild homesickness. Homesickness is something everyone can learn to cope with. In fact, research has uncovered multiple strategies that work for kids. Most kids use more than one strategy to help them deal with homesickness.” -- Dr. Chris Thurber. See The Summer Camp Handbook by Dr. Thurber for more information about this phenomenon (http://www.summercamphandbook.com/).
We want your child (and you) to be as prepared as possible for their camp session. Below you will find a list of good ideas to help with that preparation and a couple of things to avoid. There is also information about how we handle missing home at camp as well as when you should contact us and when we will contact you.
Focus on how much fun camp will be.
Visit the site. We cannot stress enough the importance of a first time camper (child or teen) seeing where they will stay, walking the paths, checking out the waterfront, and being able to ask questions of a staff member. Family Fun Days and Rookie Camper Day are perfect times for such a visit, but if you are unable to attend one of these, please contact the site to schedule a visit.
Talk about how it is normal for all of us to miss home and the people there when we are away.
Help your child come up with coping strategies if they feel sad while at camp. Here are a few ideas:
Be sure to pack a favorite stuffed animal, special “snuggly,” or favorite book that they can use during FOB (rest time) or at Lights Out (bedtime). Almost everyone has them at camp. If they are worried about feeling “babyish” then pack something small in their pillowcase until they see what others in their cabins have on display.
Keep a positive attitude and participate in the fun activities, even when feeling sad.
Talk to their counselor or other adult at camp.
Write a letter telling about camp and their feelings.
Keep a camp journal and/or take pictures to show friends and family after camp.
Make a new friend (there will be plenty to choose from).
Schedule practice overnights with friends or family. Let your child know how proud you are of their independence and how excited you are to hear about what they did while they were away. Coming home from camp they will have even more to share – new friends, activities, accomplishments, etc.
Be sure they understand that there is not an option to call you or come home early (if they ask you).
Encourage them to write letters and postcards telling about their new friends and the many activities they’re doing at camp. Provide writing materials that are pre-addressed and stamped stored in a Ziplock in their luggage. Many younger children do not know how to address an envelope – here is something you could do at home to prepare for camp. You might practice letter writing as well – send a note to Grandma or a favorite uncle.
Write encouraging, cheerful letters to your child. Camp is one of the last places where parents and children have the opportunity to stay in touch via hand-written letters. Won’t you give this gift to your child?
Acknowledge your own bittersweet feelings about your child being able to live without you for the camp session, but don’t express your sadness about missing them. It wasn’t that long ago that you did almost everything for them, and now they are going to thrive in a kid-oriented, spirit-filled, Christian community as independent beings. Camp is truly a gift you give your child – an opportunity to spread their wings and show their true selves!
Remind yourself that there are many more tears at the end of camp than at the beginning. Most campers do not want to leave when that last day rolls around.
Expect a sad letter. Realize letters are usually written early in the camp session and during quiet times when they are feeling more reflective. Usually, the child has recovered and forgotten the sad feelings before the letter makes it to your mailbox.
Please do not...
Tell your child, “If you are sad after a few days of camp, call me, and I’ll come pick you up.” This sets your child up for failure, since most likely they will have some sad feelings that they will need to work through. If this is their plan for dealing with sad feelings at camp, it quite often becomes the reality.
Express a lack of confidence in their ability to be away at camp, either directly to them or in front of others.
Tell them you’ll be sad and miserable at home without them.
Write sad letters to your child outlining how much you miss them and telling them events they are missing at home. If your child is homesick, it will be encouraging to hear that “nothing exciting is happening at home.”
How We Handle Missing Home Our counselors know positive ways for handling campers who are missing home. They will do the following things to help your child work through the normal adjustment period of being away from home: 1. Give your child time and attention. Talk to them about their feelings and let them know they are normal. 2. Do things that make camp more “homey” for them, such as read them a bedtime story, tuck them into their sleeping bag, pray for them, and love them. 3. Encourage your child to use coping strategies that have worked for other campers (see list above).
When to contact camp: If you receive a sad letter from your child, call us so that we can observe your child and talk with his/her counselor. We will call you back with detailed information about your child’s attitude and behavior. Our staff are in camp with your children throughout the day and will call you back within 24 hours.
When we will contact you: We make an effort to contact first time camper parents within the first two days of camp just to let you know how things are going. If your child is visibly upset (crying frequently, not participating, having trouble eating or sleeping) and not adjusting to camp after two full camp days, we will call you to let you know what is happening and discuss a plan for helping your child adjust.
Without the option of going home, most campers adjust to camp within a short period (1-2 days). Campers who overcome strong feelings of missing home and successfully complete their camp stay have a great sense of accomplishment and independence.