Tag Archives: summer

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.

DO’s:

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.

www.corriesirota.com

Making the most of the waning days of summer (or lessons learned from The Breakfast Club)

The back-to-school countdown in our house starts about two weeks before the first day of school.

This is roughly when the schools send out their information about class lists, hot lunch programs and school supplies. It’s usually a week or two after our annual mid-summer camping trip, and once we’ve finished washing, folding and putting away all those items, my mind begins to drift forward to the next set of looming responsibilities.

We try very, very hard not to let the impending start of school ruin the last bit of summer, but it can be hard. Our main strategy is to plan some really fun, special activities with friends, like amusement parks or waterslides. Trips to the farmer’s market. Dinner in Chinatown. Also some sleeping in, lazing around in pyjamas and swimming in the lake after dark.

Now that my older girls are preteens, I also make a real effort to get in some one-on-one time with them. When you have more than one child, it’s so easy to group them into neat categories. I often pair the twins together, because they are so easy-going and can seem very similar in their likes and dislikes. But they have very distinct personalities despite their identical genetic profiles, and really need to have that uniqueness validated. And my youngest assumes the role of the family fireball, grabbing the spotlight and thriving in it, but she is also so much more than that, and has different relationships with each of her sisters.

When you’re parenting, the easy thing isn’t always the right thing. We need to see past the labels, the thumbnail summaries, the established patterns.

This week I’ve taken advantage of the August downtime to host an 80’s teen film festival with a couple of their friends. First they watched Sixteen Candles, then The Breakfast Club. Since they are so enthusiastic, I’ve got Say Anything for tonight (“Mom, why is he holding that huge box radio over his head?” Try and explain ghetto blasters to the iPod generation!).

The reason I’m mentioning this is that I was once again by struck by that resonant line of narration from The Breakfast Club, “We think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.”

The lovely twist to that film, of course, was that the characters (the jock, the brain, the criminal, the princess, the basket case) come to realize they saw themselves and each other that way as well, exactly like the adults who just don’t get it. In that one magic day of detention, they learn that they each have a bit of each other in themselves.

People are complicated. Multifaceted. It may not seem like rocket science, but this is one of the bigger revelations of growing up and it’s a familiar theme in young adult fiction of all kinds.

Seeing this movie again made me think about how hard we need to try to see beyond the labels. Especially in preteens and teens who are growing and changing every day, who struggle to see themselves as simultaneously similar to everyone else and unique individuals. We need to give them room to surprise us, to defy expectations, to be anomalies, contradictions. To try on different hats.

In these stories (and many other kinds of YA fiction), adults are generally depicted as one-dimensional, disconnected characters, incapable of comprehending the angst and emotional turmoil of the teens around them. They are stuck in their own adult funks, driven by their own agendas and the teens need to figure everything out on their own. Makes me think of incoherent voices of all the grown-ups in the Charlie Brown cartoons. I understand how this is a convenient plot device, and I also get why this disconnect would resonate with teens, but I see it as a challenge to go beyond. We need to work very hard to maintain that dialogue with our kids. Leave our agendas aside as much as possible. Listen instead of lecturing.

So in the last few days of summer, I’m going to spend as much time as possible with each of my three girls one-on-one, letting them pick the activities and drive the conversation. As they head off to start their own high school memories with friends they haven’t yet met, I’m going to challenge myself — and them — to look beyond the surface and let them talk about whatever crosses their minds.

As challenges go, this one is also a privilege. I’m really looking forward to it.