By Evelyn Torrez-Martinez, GSACPC Camp Director
Regardless of how many times a child has been away from home, being away at summer camp can be stressful for parents and campers. The most important thing to know is that preparation–for both the parent and camper– is key. Camp Directors like myself understand that every camper has a different comfort level based on what they have experienced in life with their peers, family, school or other activities. So, the more you prepare with them while in their comfort zone, the better they will respond to feelings of homesickness when they are out of it (like at summer camp or any extended period away from home).
Many people don’t realize that most feelings of homesickness are not problematic and are normal. And homesickness is not just something that the camper will feel, in fact, parents tend to initiate this emotion even before the camper has arrived at camp. What parents can do to ease these feelings is coming up with proactive coping skills that will ease their mind when this situation happens. You know your camper better than anyone else, so be cautious in your approach. For example, if you say, “if you get homesick, I will come and pick you up right away,” or, “What will I do while you’re gone?” it conveys a message of doubt to your camper and hinders confidence and independence-building. We advise parents to speak confidently and “stay strong as a parent.” Focus more on listening to your camper, being curious about their thoughts and feelings, and then tell them you are looking forward to hearing all their learnings and stories at the end of the week!
The best remedies for homesickness are two part. While our camp staff are trained to support your camper while they’re away, the most important part of the remedy takes place at home. Create a plan as a family by incorporating these homesickness prevention strategies, focusing on your campers needs:
- Preparing your camper to feel more comfortable with the idea of going away for a couple nights will improve their overall experience at camp. Spending time visiting their new camp, getting to know where your camper will sleep and do activities, will help both parents and campers feel at ease.
A great way to introduce Girl Scout Camp is by attending one of our Open House events to tour the lodges, visit activity areas, see the cabin units and meet the staff as well as other campers. We encourage parents to engage with the camp staff and ask about camp procedures and prepare a routine with their camper while at the facility. By parents and campers also identifying any additional concerns, they can review this as a family, be proactive and prepare for a great experience.
- One of the biggest things that you can do to ease your campers’ stress before going to camp is to coach them through packing–have your camper pack their own bag and make the decision on what they will need to bring to feel comfortable, like their special blanket for example. The more independent they are during this first step, the more confident they will be doing things on their own while at camp.
Girl Scout Camp staff are trained to handle these types of situations as we tailor our techniques for each type of camper and work to proactively set campers up for success by helping them feel comfortable. A first day at camp can feel uncertain for new campers, so our Camp Counselors provide an orientation and review things like the schedule for the week and show campers where they will sleep and shower.
- Prepare pre-stamped envelopes so you and your camper can communicate throughout the week. Our Camp Counselors find it important to have a busy camper schedule. Rest hours are when campers tend to think about home and feel homesick the most. We help prevent this is by keeping them engaged with quiet games, stories, and activities like writing letters to their family.
- Reflect! Reflection is an important part of Girl Scouting as it helps re-center your perspective and practice self-gratitude. Encourage your camper to tell you how they overcame the challenge, and how it made them feel. Acknowledge the good job they did in being confident in themselves and attending a camp program away from home. This will elevate their trust in themselves and make them look forward to going on independent adventures again.
The goal should not be to completely avoid homesickness, rather, manage it if it occurs, as building coping skills and resilience are important aspects to living a healthy life. Truth is, feeling homesick is completely normal, but applying these techniques will prepare them with what they need to handle it, and will, in turn, give them a boost of self-esteem and independence. Remember that your camper is in great hands with our Girl Scout Camp staff and is available to work out any plans with campers and their families to prepare for it. Lastly, as you’re overcoming homesickness, remember to celebrate it! It is a great accomplishment for both parents and campers.
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