Your kids are packed and ready for camp. But while they’re feeling brave when you drop them off, what will they do after you drive away?
Your child’s first overnight stay at Grandma’s house. Your son’s first weeklong camp. Homesickness can happen at any age, but it’s harder on younger children.
Getting the Homesick Blues
“It’s perfectly normal for a child to be homesick,” says Barb Warner, RN, St. Louis Children’s Hospital Answer Line pediatric nurse. “It’s stressful to leave home and be separated from a parent. However, by the early teenage years kids develop coping skills.”
A key to warding off homesickness is preparing your child beforehand. “Kids who are less homesick tend to have a game plan,” says Warner. “For example, involve your child in selecting the camp. The more familiar your child is with the camp, the more comfortable he or she will be while there.”
Answering the Late Night Call
But preparing your child for the trip may not always be enough. Most parents will face the question of whether or not they should run out to pick up their child in the middle of the night. While you don’t want your child to suffer in sorrow, you don’t want to teach the lesson that shedding a tear can get them out of unpleasant (or unfamiliar) situations.
“Waiting it out is best,” says Warner. “If you’re trying to foster a sense of independence in your child, running right away to pick him or her up defeats your goal. If you model confidence over the separation, your child will follow suit.”
Regardless of your choice in action, be sure not to berate your child for his or her anxiety over leaving home. Empathize with him or her and share stories of how you coped with being away from home when you were a child.
“If you have a teen or a preteen who seems to be unable to deal with leaving home and is expressing symptoms of depression, difficulty sleeping or extreme changes in eating,” adds Warner, “talk to your family physician about it.”
Want to help your child feel at home while at camp or Grandma’s house?
- Leave love notes. Write several short encouraging notes to your child and pack them throughout his or her things.
- Pack a picture. Include a special family or pet photo or give your child a locket or keychain with a special photograph in it before he or she leaves.
- Tuck a toy. Tie your child’s special blanket or stuffed animal into his or her sleeping bag, securing it where other children can’t see it.
- Sneak snacks. Food can sometimes offer comfort. Pack a few of your child’s favorite granola bars and other healthy snacks for munching.
- Capture it. A waterproof disposable camera and a journal will let your child bring his or her memories home—adding to the excitement of sharing the adventure with the family.