Homesickness: Tips for Parents & Campers Alike

It is never too early to start planning for your son or daughter’s summer at camp. There are many exciting things about going to camp for the first time—new friends, great adventures, and an opportunity for increased independence. Camp can be a great “life-training” experience for children, building their independence and teaching self-reliance and social skills they will use throughout their life.

For some children, homesickness may also be a part of their experience. This is a normal and natural reaction to being away from home. Preventing or minimizing homesickness can be accomplished by using a number of practical steps before your child attends camp. Dr. Chris Thurber, a pediatric doctor and psychologist, developed the following list of helpful tips, which may assist you in making your child’s stay at camp a great one.

Tips for Parents

  • Homesickness is normal. Children should be told that almost everyone misses something about home while away.
  • Arrange practice time away from home. For example, 2 or 3 day visits with relatives or friends.
  • Give your son or daughter a supply of pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes, paper and pens for writing home. (Please note: these items are available for sale in the camp store. American campers will need to buy Canadian stamps to mail letters to the U.S.)
  • Talk about what to expect with your son or daughter, and stress the positive. Express enthusiasm and optimism about the fun they will have at camp.
  • Do not make comments that express anxiety or ambivalence. Even “What will I do without you?” can make a child feel anxious.
  • Learn what camp will be like at Camp Northway and Camp Wendigo. Look at the pictures in our photo gallery.
  • Prepare and pack as a family. Taking part in even the smallest decisions increases a child’s perceptions of control and confidence.
  • Pack a personal item from home, such as a stuffed animal.
  • Write early and write often. Sending a letter a few days before your son or daughter leaves for camp means they will receive it when they arrive, or shortly afterward.
  • Share the below “Tips for Campers” with your child, if necessary. These strategies can help if they feel homesick while away.
  • Respond to questions about homesickness with statements such as: “It’s normal to feel a little homesick, but we’ve talked about ways to cope with those feelings. Remember that the staff will also be there to help you. You’ll have a great time.”
  • DO NOT make a “pick-up” deal. This decreases the likelihood of success at camp. It undermines your son or daughter’s sense that you have confidence in their ability to be on their own, and sets the expectation that they may not like the camp experience. It also sends the message that the only solution to the totally normal feelings of homesickness is to be “rescued” by a parent.

Tips for Campers

These strategies can be used at different times, and will work in different ways. Some may work better than others for you.

  • Do something fun (like play with friends) to forget about feelings of homesickness.
  • Do something to feel closer to home, such as write a letter to your family.
  • Find someone who can talk with you to help you feel better (like a counsellor, or the Assistant Director).
  • Think about the positive things at camp. (Things like friends, canoe trips, or campfire).
  • Think about how the time away from home is actually pretty short.
  • Try not to think about home, to forget about your homesickness.
  • Think about your family, and figure out what they would say to help you when you feel homesick.

Letter writing can be a helpful way to maintain contact, because it requires narrative reflection, which promotes an understanding of one’s experience.