Back in May I wrote about why you should send a child (whether your own or not) to Bible camp this summer. My son leaves for camp next week. Having worked several years at a camp, I've seen my fair share of cases of homesickness. Every good camp nurse is prepared for it--most "sicknesses" that camp nurses see are manifestations of homesickness.
The major cause of homesickness is parents.
Got that? It's true. Most children will do fine on their own once they get to camp and get into the activities and begin to make new friends. Yes, they may miss home and may wish their parents were around, but without parental influence children will generally do fine.
1. Don't make promises that will cause trouble. Often parents will promise their child that anytime they need to talk, they can call home. It's a promise made with well intentions: you want to be there to comfort your child. Or they'll promise that they'll come get their child if they can't make it. Again, good intentions, but have confidence in your child that they can do well on their own without you around. That's the point of parenthood--to raise children in a way that one day they will be successful at living on their own. Most camps don't allow campers to use the phone unless there is an emergency, anyway. Phone calls breed homesickness.
Instead, promise them that you'll be thinking about them and praying they have a good week. It's okay to send a family photo or something from home that will bring them comfort if they need.
2. Be careful what you say in any letters you send to them. Don't write a letter to them them how much you miss them. Don't mention all the fun stuff going on at home or anything exciting their siblings are doing while they're at camp.
Write letters. You can send them one any day if you want. But focus on how much fun your child must be having at camp. Ask questions about new friends they might be making, activities they're enjoying, and what they're learning in chapel. Instead of telling them how much you miss them, tell them how much you love them.
3. Don't develop a culture of homesickness within your child. Fostering a "clingy" child who is afraid to be away from their parents' eyesight will hinder their success. Don't coddle them. Definitely don't bring up homesickness before they leave for camp.
Instead, develop their confidence. Remind them no matter where they are that your love for them does not change. Encourage them. Develop a healthy sense of independence--help them to know that you will be there for them, that they do need you, but also that they're able do well without you around. Encourage them to make new friends, try new activities, and have a great time.
The best cure to homesickness is time. With a homesick child I usually try and bargain with them for a little more time: "Let's play this game, and then we can see how you're doing." "Let me tell you a story before bed, and then we'll see how you're feeling." "Why don't you go get a treat from the Snack Shack and then we'll talk some more."
Sometimes it's just diversionary tactics. But with a little time, going minute by minute, eventually the camper will gradually find themselves enjoying camp. It's not unusual that by the end of the week, they don't want to leave. Yes, there may be some cases where a camper just can't handle being away from home, but most homesickness is curable. As long as we parents don't meddle too much.
Yes, parents are the main cause of homesickness, but we can also be the main reason for camper success.