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homesickness

Help with Homesickness

Tips from Camp Owner and Director Steve Purdum

One of the largest concerns of parents and children about attending summer camp is homesickness. I have taken to referring to it as “missing home,” since it’s not really a sickness at all. In fact, it is quite normal for all of us to miss home when we are away. As summer approaches and your child’s time at Camp Mishawaka draws near, I wanted to share some thoughts on how to prepare for this phenomenon, for you as well as your child.

Talk About It Beforehand
It’s always helpful to acknowledge the likelihood that at some point during his or her stay at Camp your child will miss home. Sometimes even 3rd and 4th year veterans are caught by surprise when they find themselves dwelling on what they are missing at home. By talking about it beforehand, acknowledging that it is natural and even healthy, a child is already better prepared if and when those feelings do arise. You can reassure your child that you will miss them, too, but focus on the opportunities available at Camp. It is not helpful to promise a “rescue mission” if your child relays that he or she is missing home.

Supportive Communication While at Camp
Parents are encouraged to send emails to their children and write old fashioned letters regularly. Coming to the mailbox at Camp and seeing it full of mail is a great feeling and goes a long way in reassuring your child that everything is OK at home. It’s best to focus on your child’s time at Camp—asking lots of questions and encouraging a response. Updates from home are great, but avoid details of extraordinary things that are happening. If a child feels like he or she has missed out on some special event—a concert, a new movie, or great meal, this fear of missing out can trigger an onset of homesickness. It’s not uncommon for early communication from campers home to mention that they are missing you or home. Most often, by the time that letter arrives home, the feeling has passed and campers are fully invested in the Camp experience.

Homesickness Can Actually Be Good For You
That’s right. It’s counter to our instinct as parents to protect our children but a number of long-term studies have shown that these temporary episodes of missing home strengthen our children and their bonds with family and home. Noted author and child psychologist, Michael Thompson, has written a book called, Homesick and Happy, in which he follows the pre-camp, camp, and post-camp experience of a number children and families, focusing on the phenomenon of homesickness. He draws several conclusions from his study, but the overwhelming evidence that a traditional camp experience can help children develop independence and strength, and not despite missing home, but, in fact, because of it. Camp Mishawaka is honored to be featured in one boy’s story. If you are interested in learning more, or ordering the book, I have included a link to a number of references at the end of this note.

What We Do
Studies have shown that everyone misses home to some degree or another. When missing home becomes acute or rises to the level that a child is not participating fully in activities, having trouble sleeping or eating we won’t hesitate to be in touch. Our staff is trained to recognize homesickness, acknowledge it, and work or redirecting that energy toward Camp activities. Sometimes a two-week stay can seem daunting, but by breaking the experience down into smaller parts, providing something to look forward to each day, fostering connections with staff, other campers and activities that allow children to focus on fun and advancement, campers take ownership of their experience.
I often refer to my own Mishawaka camper experience as the “greatest gift I ever received” (my grandfather sent me for 8 years!) and I am reminded each day of the gift you have given us by sharing your child with us, and providing them with this opportunity to learn and grow. As always, we stand ready to answer your questions about any part of the Camp Mishawaka experience. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if we can help.

Resources on Homesickness
Homesick and Happy – Dr. Micheal Thompson’s book about summer camp and missing home
The Summer Camp Handbook – Dr. Christopher Thurber’s work on preparing for a traditional camp experience. His website, Campspirit also includes many excellent resources for camp parents
American Camp Association – The national organization for accredited summer camps. You can find many insightful articles on how to prepare for camp, including this one linked to homesickness resources.