For millions of children, youth and adults, sleepaway summer camp is right around the corner. Camp is a unique environment that promotes growth and independence.
For many families in today's plugged in society, camp is the first real separation they have experienced - and many parents may be worried about homesickness - both for their happy camper, and for themselves.
Research indicates that homesickness is normal. It is common for campers and parents to feel a tinge of homesickness at some point during the camp session. So, how can parents help? The American Camp Association recommends the following do's and don'ts families can use to help deal with homesickness:
DO encourage independence throughout the year. Practice separations, such as sleepovers at a friend's house, can simulate the camp environment.
DO involve your child in the process of choosing a camp. The more that the child owns the decision, the more comfortable the child will feel being at camp.
DO understand the camp's philosophy on how issues like homesickness are addressed. Talk candidly with the camp director to understand her perspective on your child's adjustment.
DO discuss what camp will be like before your child leaves. Consider role-playing anticipated situations, such as using a flashlight to find the bathroom.
DO reach an agreement ahead of time on calling each other. If your child's camp has a no-phone-calls policy, honor it.
DO send a note or care package ahead of time to arrive the first day of camp. Acknowledge, in a positive way, that you will miss your child. For example, you can say "I am going to miss you, but I know that you will have a good time at camp."
DO pack a personal item from home, such as a stuffed animal.
DON'T bribe. Linking a successful stay at camp to a material object sends the wrong message. The reward should be your child's newfound confidence and independence.
DON'T plan an exit strategy. If a "rescue call" comes from the child, offer calm reassurance and put the time frame into perspective.
DON'T feel guilty about encouraging your child to stay at camp. For many children, camp is a first step toward independence and plays an important role in their growth and development.
DO remember that camp staff are trained to ease homesickness.
DON'T make your child feel like a failure if their stay at camp is cut short. Focus on the positive and encourage your child to try camp again next year.
For more information on homesickness or expert advice on camp, visit www.CampParents.org.