Tag Archives: anxiety

Home is where the heart is…. What parents need to know about homesickness and summer camp

Two boys at summer campThis is a guest post from Corrie Sirota M.S.W., P.S.W.

I am a camper through and through. I always loved it – everything about it – the smell of nature, bonfires, roasting marshmallows, and quiet nights. For me, camp is a magical experience. As the social worker at a residential camp for more than six years, I saw my fair share of campers who presented with all sorts of challenges and issues.

Additionally, over the past several years I have had the privilege of working at numerous camps facilitating workshops and training to camp staff and administration. The most common concern that is raised in almost all camp settings is the issue of homesickness.

A child’s first experience away from home can bring out a number of reactions and feelings that may affect their camping experience that summer and possibly the many summers that follow.

First and foremost, remember that every child is different and unique and as such every child will handle their separations differently and it is NORMAL to feel sad and lonely at times. In fact, it is my feeling that we send the wrong message when we label it  “Homesickness,” as it is NOT an illness, merely a feeling of missing home.

It is with this in mind that I have created a list of suggestions to help ensure that your child’s first experience away from home be a positive one.


Prior to going to camp:

  • Do Provide relevant information to head staff and counsellors about rituals and habits that will help them relate to your child (e.g. doesn’t like to be hugged, needs stuffed animal to sleep)
  • Do send special stuffed animals, blankets, and pictures of family
  • Do inform your child if you will be travelling while they will be in camp.
  • Do talk about what a great experience they are going to have.
  • Do show excitement
  • Do visit the camp on an open house – it can prove very helpful for new campers to see the “lay of the land” prior to getting off the bus that first day. This provides them with a sense of familiarity; it also helps you see the places and spaces they will/can refer to in letters home.

While your child is away at camp:

  • Do Write letters at least 2x per week; ask questions related to camp activities
  • Do say you miss them – it’s OK to let them know how you feel, they want to know you care.
  • Do provide information about campers about siblings, grandparents, and family pets – within reason; for if you tell them something bad is happening at home this will only serve to raise their anxiety. Information is important but less is more depending on the issue!

Do Not’s

Prior to camp:

  • Don’t talk about what fun YOU will have while they are away – this only serves to make them miss you and home.
  • Don’t share the anxiety you may feel about them leaving home for the first time – Children take their cues from your lead…therefore, if you demonstrate that you are concerned, worried, anxious about them going (while normal particularly first time campers) you may inadvertently be sending them the message “I don’t trust that you can handle the camp experience”
  • Don’t (at least try not to) cry “too much” at the bus stop. Consider what message you want to send them Children worry when they see their parents upset – is your tear-streaked face  the last image you want them to see of you as the bus pulls away?
  • Don’t hang around too long at the bus stop (after your child has gotten on the bus) as it may create anxiety for both you and your child. The longer you linger the more difficult it may be for you. Summer camp is the most wonderful experience you can offer your child, be happy for them and ENJOY the break!

 While your child is away at camp:

  • Don’t write letters that include notes about what fabulous activities they are missing at home – again, this may send a message that they are missing something at home and will want to be there.
  • Don’t joke about moving while they are gone or doing something to their room (YES, parents have done this on many occasions). There is a fine line between joking with your child and sarcasm. I remember my daughter’s first sleepaway camp experience, we arrived at the bus stop and I instantly remembered that I had forgotten her medical card. When I told the Camp Director he looked at her and said, “Well, I guess she can’t go to camp then.” Naturally, he was joking – however, she instantly broke into hysterics believing this was the truth. I politely (albeit rather upset myself) asked him to “fix it.” He sheepishly explained that he was just kidding and that of course she would be able to come to camp. Talk about an unnecessary rocky start!

These gentle reminders along with understanding the specific needs of your child will prove to enhance the entire family’s summer experience.

Corrie Sirota M.S.W., P.S.W.


How to help your teen get through end of semester exams

Teen studyingThe last week before holidays is exam period for many kids in high school, middle school, CEGEP and junior college. And since your teen is probably already worn out by all the end of semester assignments, holidays concerts, parties and family commitments, there’s a good chance they are heading into their exam rooms a bit frazzled and stressed out.

All the residual stress and anxiety can put them at an academic disadvantage when the exam booklets are handed out, potentially lowering their test scores. It also means your teens may be more likely to get into arguments with family members, experience random emotional blowouts or isolate themselves in their rooms, earphones on, doors shut.

But sometimes, when all their physical cues shout “Stay away!” they are actually calling out for thoughtful and considerate input. Here are some things you can do to help them (and everyone else) survive the exam week crunch.

Get tough on sleep. Now, more than ever, they need to unplug their devices (computers, iPads, phones) and get them out of their rooms at bedtime. All-night study sessions are almost always a waste of time and energy. This is not the time for group sleepover study sessions with friends or late nights cramming at the library. Help them establish a sleep routine that guarantees they show up for their exams well-rested.

Limit other commitments. Try to control the amount of non-studying related events around this time of year. The office holiday party that includes families, the neighbourhood carolling, Great Aunt Selma’s tree-trimming, Bubby’s annual latka fry-up — whatever the things that get your family out the door in mid-December– can all add up to a lot of time away from the books. And while your teen will benefit from breaks and a change of scenery, all of this forced socializing can be painful to your average 14 or 16-year-old. In terms of relaxing and recharging, they’d be better off taking the dog for a run, reading a novel or practicing guitar. Try and find a reasonable balance for them.

Feed their bodies, feed their brains. On the mornings before exams, I always get up 10 minutes early to cook my daughters a hot breakfast. They have almost no appetite at 7 a.m. (and who can blame them?), but I know from personal experience what it’s like to write a two-hour exam with nothing in your system. So I make eggs and hash browns, oatmeal pancakes or fruit and yogurt smoothies so that they have a bit of protein and carbs before they head out the door.

I try to extend this philosophy to their study sessions as well. My work requires me to do a lot of writing and research, and I know all too well how snacking can function as a procrastination tool or distraction. Instead of fattening and salty processed convenience foods, I try to have a ready supply of cut up fruit and veggies, cheese sticks, popcorn or homemade mini muffins around.

Offer the kind of support they need. This will almost certainly not sound like a lecture on study skills. It will not be a series of frustrated comments about their messy rooms, disorganized backpacks or crumpled, incomplete course notes. You’re kind of too late for this now, and it’s not going to help matters or lessen anxiety levels. Pick your battles.

This is the time to hang out quietly. A quick jam session on Guitar Hero. A cuddle before bedtime. Twenty minutes hanging out together in front of the TV. A quick run out together to get hot chocolate. Listen when they talk. If they ask for help getting organized, then step in. If they don’t, well, they will quickly learn on their own what they need. During exam period, you will be a far more helpful and calming force if you can help keep their stress down and offer a sympathetic ear.