As we gear up for camp, there is much to think about: gathering everything on the packing list (and fitting it into a trunk!), what activities will my daughter try and enjoy the most, which tent will she be in, will she miss me?
At one time or another, we have all missed home. Even the most confident, enthusiastic camper may arrive at camp and find herself dealing with homesickness, or what we call “beginning feelings” at ALC. This time of adjustment to a new situation, settling in, and becoming comfortable is a completely natural part of the experience. The good news is, she will be okay.
In his book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow, psychologist Michael Thompson says that children who are away from their parents can be “both homesick and happy, scared and successful, anxious and exuberant” while having new experiences and making new friends.
It is okay to acknowledge the possibility of beginning feelings as you prepare your camper for camp. Dr. Thompson says, "Many parents avoid talking about homesickness because they're afraid it will increase their child's fear. However, nothing reduces homesickness like empathizing with it and acknowledging that it might be a bit tough to overcome but that most children do." It is important to let your camper know that you believe in her and her camp experience - that it is okay to miss home and to love her camp experience all at the same time. It is not helpful to make promises to her that will keep her focused on the negative (ie. “if you hate it, write to me, and I will come and pick you up.”).
While beginning feelings may linger for a few days for any camper, experience tells us that a camper who knows that she is supported by her family, her counselor, and her tent group will soon find her footing at camp. Creating that sense of trust - that you believe in her, in this experience, and in ALC - before she heads to camp is an important way to show support from the start.
So what happens if you get a sad letter from your camper that suggests she is experiencing beginning feelings while she is at ALC?
Don’t panic! Remember that it has been a few days since your camper sent that letter, which means that she may be feeling much better by the time you read it.
It is okay to acknowledge your camper’s feelings, but to then also remind her that you believe in her, are proud of her, and that it is okay to be missing home, AND then to get involved and absorb all that is offered to her at camp
Keep your letters positive - a camper can be undone by a letter that overemphasizes what she is missing at home - be it friends, a pet, a sibling, parents, a special event, etc. Encourage your camper to talk with her tent counselor about her feelings. Remind her that there are kind and supportive adults at camp who will stick with her and who are eager to help her enjoy her summer at ALC.
Call us to check in to see how things are going: we are always happy to give parents an update - we can let you know what we are seeing in the time since her letter was mailed. We can also give specific guidance on how to respond to that sad letter.
Remember that this is sometimes even harder on us as parents than it is on our campers. Giving her the time and space to move through a challenge like beginning feelings is part of our evolving relationship with our children as they grow. And that is one of the reasons you have given her the opportunity to spend her summer at ALC!
As you applaud your camper for moving through those emotions, know she is building the foundation that you wish for her: she will spread her wings, make some independent decisions, be thankful for her family, and feel a
sense of increased self-confidence as she moves from her summer adventures to other experiences that will come her way. You are giving her the gift of respecting her individual desires and strengths. What more would we want for our children - all in a place that exudes warmth, love, and support, one step at a time, one summer at time.
Lastly, we urge you to save those letters from your daughter! They will stand in great testament to the loving communication your daughter shared with you during her summer(s) at ALC. One day soon she will be stepping away from home and you will recall how her days at camp contributed to her many abilities, her independent spirit, and her confidence to seek out and embrace her life’s next adventure.
Dr. Michael Thompson’s book, Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow is a great resource if you would like to read more about this topic.