Despite your child's excitement and anticipation for summer camp, you should brace yourself for the onslaught of homesickness blues a few days (or even hours) after summer camp commences. According to experts, homesickness is normal and that this feeling affects roughly around 95% of campers - young and old alike.
What parents should remember is that even as summer camps offer tremendous adventure and fun activities, kids - especially first-timers - are still likely to miss their homes and parents. This separation anxiety is actually developmentally appropriate and is proof for parents that their children do want them around him/her.
And while homesickness is inevitable for most kids, parents can help prevent strong feelings of homesickness. Here are some ways to help your kids prepare for and/or cope from that away-from-home blues.
Do not force your kids to attend camp. While attending camp helps develop a child's personality, forcing your kids to attend camp when he is not ready will only strengthen that feeling of homesickness.
Talk openly about homesickness. This step is especially helpful for parents whose kids are attending camp for the very first time. Talk openly about your child's concerns and try to find out what his various concerns are. Once you've identified his concerns, reassure your child that camp is a great opportunity to learn new things, create new friendships and develop new skills. Highlight the advantages and all the fun things your child will experience. Assure him that he will have a nice time at camp and that your communication lines will remain open despite the distance.
Practice time away from home. Weeks or days before the start of camp, parents can arrange a new practice visits to a friend's or relatives' house over the weekend or even just for the night. This way, your child will get a sense of how it feels like to be away from home and hopefully learn to find ways to cope with being on his own - even if it is only for a couple of hours. When the child is finally home, you can sit down with him and discuss how it felt to be away from home and what they can both do to help make the separation easier to bear for both the parent and the child.
Let him talk to friends who have prior camp experience. One of the reasons why kids feel homesick - especially for first timers - is they have no idea what to expect in camp. Allowing him to talk to other kids who have been in similar camps can help lessen your child's anxieties.
Simulate the camp experience with your child. Try to do some role-playing and outdoor activities similar to those done at camp so your child can have an overview of what to expect. You can also make the role-playing a bit more fun by setting up a cabin-like atmosphere at home or by using flashlights to get ready for bed.
Practice some coping strategies such as writing a letter home, talking to their counselor or sibling or friend, reminding themselves of all the exciting things they were looking forward to doing at camp.
Avoid making pick-up deals with your child. As parents, we usually fall into the trap of assuring our kids that if they feel homesick we can always go and pick them up. Experts believe that this does not help prevent homesickness in any way. In fact, doing so will send a very negative message to your child. It is like saying to your child that homesickness is something he probably won't be able to deal with. What parents can do is find ways to help your kids overcome this strong feeling of homesickness. Nurture their ability to cope and never undermine your kid's growing independence.
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