“Whenever I pull into camp, I feel like I’m at home.” One of my daughters said the last time I dropped her off. Stuff like that warms my heart and makes me a little weepy. Then for a brief instant, Mom Guilt kicks in, making me wonder what they heck I’m doing wrong as a mom if this place feels like home. What does home feel like? Don’t they like me? Don’t they like their home? Then that little voice in my head called Sanity ropes me back in, assuring me that all she means is that she loves camp. She feels safe here – like she belongs.
Not every kid feels this way right off the bat, though. Missing home is a very normal feeling that many campers experience. So what’s a mom or dad or friend to do?
I’m going to give you some tips and share some stories that may help you. I’m not a counselor or psychologist, but I am a mom and a former educator. I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of kids who miss the familiar, and that’s what homesickness is. It’s missing the familiar.
So what can you as a parent do to combat homesickness? One basic rule is to talk to your child about these possible feelings before he or she arrives at camp. Did you ever feel this way when you were younger and away from home? Share a personal experience to show that these feelings are normal. Offer advice. What do you do now when you feel lonely or scared or out of place in an unfamiliar area? This is a great time to connect with your child. I remember telling my girls that there might be times when they feel scared or alone, but that camp is a place where they can try things they can’t do when they are at home. They can meet people from other towns, states and even countries.
What shouldn’t you say? Okay, Moms (and Dads), this might sound harsh, but don’t even think about telling your child you will come pick up him or her if they want you to. That sets the precedent in his or her mind that if they don’t like something, you will rescue them. It tells them you don’t think they can make it. And let’s be honest, in some cases it’s more about our fears for our children than it is about our children’s fears. No one prepares parents for camp, and so we can freak a little bit, but don’t put your emotions on your child. This isn’t about you. Camp is about kids learning how to grow as individuals. They navigate friendships and relationships on their own without parents’ help. Don’t fear this. Embrace it! What a fantastic, safe place for kids to experience this kind of maturity. You’ve done a great job parenting. Your child can figure this out on his or her own.
Send her to camp with a journal or pre-stamped envelopes and writing paper so she can communicate with you back home if they want. Sometimes just getting feelings down on paper can be therapeutic. Go through the camp website with him so he will know what to expect before he even gets here. Knowledge really is power in this case.
Have confidence that our camp staff knows about homesickness. They are trained in knowing how to deal with it in a compassionate manner. They don’t blow it off or mock it or tell kids to “suck it up.” A lot of our staff were campers at one time or another so they understand these feelings. Our program directors have even made major changes to our Sunday nights here at camp this summer in order to prevent homesickness right off the bat. They are working hard to make sure kids feel like they belong right from the start so homesickness is limited or hopefully in a lot of cases, eliminated.
I’ll leave you with a story from last summer. It was getting to be evening time and a camper, I’ll call him Frank, came up to a table where I was sitting discussing programming with a program director. To say Frank was having a not so good day didn’t begin to cover it. He’d lost one of his shoes. He’d stepped on his glasses, breaking the frames. His pants ripped in a conspicuous spot. He liked the boys in his cabin, and he thought his counselor was funny, but he missed home, and he asked the director if he could call his mom and have her come get him. Gotta tell you, this kid pulled on my heartstrings, and as a Mom I was tempted to ask Frank his address because I was going to drive him there myself.
But, the director, in that wonderful way he has with campers, started talking with Frank about his likes and interests. Turns our Frank was a hockey player and had been to hockey camp earlier in the summer at a Big Ten school. Pretty cool stuff. The entire time the director was listening to Frank, he was fixing those glasses frames. Hey, you don’t spend all your professional life in camping, and not know how to pretty much fix anything a camper will bring to you, broken. Frank wasn’t convinced. “When are you going to call my mom?”
“Frank,” I said. “Let me ask you something. What if there was the possibility that tomorrow just could possibly be the best day of your life? Would you stay?” Frank thought about that one for a minute. “I just would hate for you to go home and miss out on something spectacular.” I left it at that. The director commented again how tough Frank was to play hockey and handed him back his glasses. Frank wasn’t convinced, but he stopped asking to go home.
The next day I saw Frank out swimming with a group of boys in the lake, looking as if he was having the time of his life. He stopped to tell me he was indeed having a great day. The director had called his mom, and told her the situation about the glasses and without Frank’s knowledge, she drove to camp and delivered his spare pair to Mark. That evening Frank told me he was interested in joining the YMCA Ragger Program and asked me if I’d tie his rag.
I share all that to say this: Homesickness is real. It’s normal. It’s our jobs as the adults to help our kids work through it. In the end, it only can help them grow and mature into young men and women who go out and change the world for good because they’ve learned to face their fears bravely and honestly.
I hope this helps. I know it’s not easy or fun to think of our kids as scared or nervous or homesick. So, let’s give them the tools they need to succeed and thrive even while feeling such things. Let’s smile when we hear them say, “This place feels like home.”
With love and support,
Priscilla, aka Camp Mom