How CYC Handles Homesickness
Homesickness strikes kids of all ages, new or return campers and can last for a few minutes or on and off for a whole week. As a child, I experienced TERRIBLE homesickness so as a camp director, I am very conscious of this issue. Safety is our number one priority at camp and that includes both physical AND emotional. Staff are trained to watch for signs of homesickness and work with kids so that they can have a fun and stress-free week.
I know that every parent’s worst fear is that their child is sad, lonely, miserable and no one is paying attention. As a small camp, focused on each camper as an individual, I can assure you- we are paying attention and you don’t need to spend the week worrying about your child. No news is good news- I will call you if something is going on.
Homesickness Step by Step
Here’s what happens if a child is homesick at CYC:
1. Homesick camper and I meet to discuss what’s going on and how they are feeling. Together, we will set a goal- for example, “rejoin programming until lunch and we will meet to see how you are doing.”
2. Sometimes doing something to get through the initial moments of homesickness is enough. If not, at our second meeting, we will set another goal. This is the point that I call you. I will let you know what’s going on and what the next steps are. I won’t include the child in this call.
- During this call I will let you know that if the homesickness continues, I will call you back, with your child on the line and you should be prepared for your child to sound upset and possibly cry.
- NOTE- even the happiest camper (who is having fun and not homesick at all), upon hearing mom or dad’s voice, is likely to burst into tears. I don’t know why it happens but it is very common and is not an indication that they have been miserable the whole time.
3. If the homesickness continues and a child is really struggling, I will call you with them. If we get to this stage, the BEST thing a parent can do is to encourage their child, tell them how proud you are, but firmly let them know that they have to make it through the week. The child will cry and it will be difficult for you to do. HOWEVER, 99.99% of the time, when a parent is firm, even if the camper is hysterical and claiming they will die, within 5 minutes of getting off the phone with you, something will click and they will stop crying and be back with their group, happy and active.
- If a parent tells a child, “try it for a while and if you can’t make it, I will come and pick you up…” 99.99% of the time, the child WILL go home.
- If a child’s only option is to stay at camp and make the best of it, he or she WILL rise to the challenge and WILL make it though the week successfully. If they have an “out” they will focus on being rescued, rather than on adapting.
4. Once you have told your child you can’t pick them up and they have to stay, your child and I will come up with some goals for the week and when they are ready, I will bring them back to their group. I will follow up with you within the next few hours- phone or email- to let you know how it is going.
5. I will continue to check in with you child throughout the week and I will continue to email and call you with their progress.
- I know it is difficult to tell your crying child that you won’t rescue them. But if you can be firm, they will have a successful week. You are not abandoning them and you are not a bad parent. If you can get through that one difficult phone call, the benefits will be worth it!
- We are not in the business of torturing children. I don’t want your child to be miserable and I won’t try to keep a child at camp who is not happy. I will let you know if they are still struggling and you and I will work together, along with your child, to make the best decision for your child.
- Kids who leave camp early due to homesickness will not receive a refund on camp fees.
Here are some things you can do BEFORE your child comes to camp to help prevent homesickness-
- Talk about camp: look at the website, ask your child what they are most excited for, be excited with them.
- Have a conversation about homesickness and make a plan for how they can handle it. “You might feel homesick, but know that you are strong enough to make it and we will see you at the end of the week.” Send a stuffed animal or something to help give them courage while they are away.
- Don’t tell them that you will come and pick them up if they don’t like it. Encourage them with positive phrases- “you are brave and this is going to be so fun!” “We will be so proud of you for making it through the whole week.” Avoid phrases that might cause your child stress, “We are going to miss you so much, we will be miserable without you!”
- Offer a reward or something for them to look forward to- “when you get home from camp, we will have your favorite dinner and go to the park as a family.”
- Send mail. In your letters, be encouraging, upbeat, include jokes or tell them about something fun you will do together when they get back.