Summers spent at sleepaway camp are often times of tremendous growth for our children as they learn independence and expand their intellectual, social, and physical skills. Children who get to camp and experience homesickness may be temporarily distracted by it, but usually end their summers with new friends, lifelong memories, and immense pride that they stuck it out.
Feeling in control is key to overcoming homesickness. Just as your child benefits from learning how to take control of herself when she becomes anxious, she benefits from learning which parts of her day at camp she gets to control. Mindfulness meditation is one of several tools to give your child when she leaves for camp.
The purpose of mindfulness training for children, as for anyone, is to increase:
• AWARENESS of what’s happening around and within us • ACCEPTANCE of what we can and cannot control, and • ACTIONS that are compassionate and consistent with our mindful awareness.
The focus is on breath and sensory awareness, and other simple tools that children can learn easily to help them to experience emotions, rather than react to, and become overwhelmed by, how they are feeling. When children are able to identify how they are feeling, they learn to be the ones in control.
Anxiety and homesickness are both normal feelings and ones your child will benefit from learning to master. (Do keep in mind that sleepaway camp is not for everyone and that children who have experienced a death or divorce in the family could find leaving home particularly difficult.)
Here are 6 tips on how to deal with homesickness:
First and foremost, make sure to give your child a voice in choosing the camp. The more control she has in the decision making process, the more comfortable she will be once she gets there. Help your child figure out which part of her day she can plan. Does she get to pick some of her daily activities or if she gets the upper or lower bunk? Encourage her to stay active.
Do not rescue children too quickly from their discomfort. It is important for your child to see that she can get through this challenge. Encourage her to stay in touch by writing letters or calling if that is appropriate (sometimes camps discourage calling since the sound of your voice might bring on more homesickness.)
Be accessible. This is especially critical for first time campers. Your child’s anxiety may increase if you seem completely inaccessible.
Do not share your own anxiety or sadness if you miss your child. Children sense this and may question their own ability to cope if they see you are not coping.
Teach your child mindfulness meditation prior to her departure for camp. Explain that it can be done anywhere. Nighttime is often a vulnerable time for homesickness so you could suggest making mindfulness mediation part of a bedtime routine.
Finally, if you do end up having to take your child home, do not make her feel guilty. Giving your child the support she needs this summer may very well give her the confidence to try again next year.