Now that we are finishing up the first week of camp, you may be wondering if your child is adapting well to camp, or experiencing a little homesickness. If the answer is a little homesickness, you are in good company. Homesickness in moderate measure is a normal part of the camp experience for many campers. While the ache of a missing mom and dad is something we are all concerned about, it can be a positive adjustment that will help your child become more adaptable and emotionally strong. At camp we call this phenomenon “developing coping muscles”.
We all want to ensure our children’s happiness and wellbeing whenever possible. The downside to this is that some children do not respond well to situations where they experience challenges that go outside their comfort zone. A child missing their mom and dad is a new feeling for many kids, and one that takes a certain strength to work with.
When we have a homesick camper, Stephanie and I like to meet him/her in the office and ask 4 basic questions that goes something like this:
Are the counselors good?
Do you like the kids in your bunk?
Is the food OK?
Do you like the activities?
Most often a child will say yes to these basic questions, tearful and sniffling. When I hear this I know that the foundation of their camp life is OK and he/she knows they are in a safe place. I then proudly announce like a highly trained MD “that’s great I know what you have! It’s a little case of homesickness and that means you miss your Mom and Dad.” I let this sink in as I know that I’m stating the obvious. What I am really trying to do though, is separate camp life from the experience of homesickness. Unfortunately these two realities can get entirely “moshed” up in a tidal wave of emotion the first week of camp. I like to tell campers, “homesickness is a lot like getting a cold; you feel under the weather for a few days and a little achy. With rest, fluids, and medicine you always feel better- right? This is what you are feeling right now.”
No camper has ever suffered emotional damage from learning how to cope with and manage, feelings of homesickness. In fact, quite the opposite actually happens. We know that experiencing life’s normal illnesses builds a strong immune system. Similarly, experiencing life’s normal personal challenges at camp helps build resilience, adaptability, and coping skills. As a parent, it may tough to override your rescue response for a child in need and it may go against every nurturing impulse you have.
If you can look at homesickness as a common cold and treat it as such, you are helping your child become a healthier person in the long run. Believe in your child and his/her ability to adapt and cope. Camp is a place of supervised independence and here your child gets to wrestle with the ups and downs of life in small doses. Here is where children get to develop the coping muscles that will ensure a healthy, confident person who will interact extremely well with life and the changes it brings.