Homesickness is a normal feeling to experience when away from home, especially at long-term residential summer camps. According to the American Camp Association, nearly 96% of campers report experiencing feelings of homesickness.
Tali Cornblath, assistant director of Falcon Camp in Carrollton, about 30 miles south of Canton; Abby Mintz, assistant director of camper and staff life at B’nai Brith Beber Camp in Mukwonago, Wisc.; and Liz Stevens, director of Camp Walden in Cheboygan, Mich., said campers shouldn’t feel bad about missing home.
“We want to acknowledge to kids that it is OK to feel homesick,” Cornblath said. “Those are all natural and normal feelings. It just might not be fun and we want campers to have fun. So, we help them think about how to get through it. It’s a 100% common emotion. At some point or another, everyone goes through it, even I get homesick.”
Stevens explained feelings of homesickness arise because of the extreme change in daily routine and scenery.
“Children know the lay of the land, the routine and the food at home. They understand that parents and guardians are there to protect and care for them,” she stated. “Leaving all that behind to board the camp bus can be frightening and emotionally jarring. So, it makes sense that the majority of campers experience homesickness.”
The professionals said their camps tackle homesickness in various ways, but most of the approaches start with supporting the camper and assuring them they have someone to confide in.
“One thing that is important is campers understand that they can be homesick and still have fun,” Mintz said. “We can see kids stay in homesick land out guilt that if they have fun, it means they aren’t missing their parents. So, we like to keep the conversation positive and engage them in activities they enjoy.”
Cornblath said support lies in training staff to recognize the signs of homesickness.
“Kids who are feeling homesick are often internalizing it, they can be feeling unhappy and be less vocal,” she explained. “We train staff to know what it looks like and how they can fix it. But, a lot of it is acknowledging their feelings. Asking them what they might be doing at home and what they miss.”
At Camp Walden, homesickness is combated before it starts.
“We start raising awareness about homesickness with families before camp begins and we offer parents and children tangible ways to prepare for the inevitable bout of homesickness,” Stevens said. “First, (talking) openly about how a camper will cope goes a long way towards lessening the severity of homesickness in most cases.”
Speaking of parents, the professionals also said parents have an important role while their children are away.
“Kids love getting mail from home and most of the time it cheers them up,” Stevens noted. “Parents should avoid writing to campers that they are ‘lonely’ without them or ‘miss them terribly.’ This can make children feel guilty or even cause a camper to worry about a parent. The best letters ask a lot of questions about camp and focus on the positive experience.”
Cornblath said parents should also only express positive feelings about the camp experience as children can easily pick up on their vibes.
“The biggest trigger we see is parents who share their nervousness about the camper being gone,” she said. “Also, never give your child an out. It should be obvious, but that gives the child no incentive to even try a coping mechanism.”
Mintz noted, “If a kid picks up on the parent feeling anxious, they are more prone to internalize it and will approach the experience with more worry. Parents want to remain confident as they preparing for camps. They should only lean on us as camp professionals to express worry and concern.”