March Break camps are often the first time children spend a night away from home, and the experience can lead to feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Sometimes it’s hard for the kids, too.
Agnes Stawicki, managing editor of the magazine Our Kids Go to Camp (ourkids.net/camp), says both parent and child can head off trouble by getting kids involved from the start.
“We say first and foremost to really involve the child in the process so that they get excited about it from the start and they have a role and a responsibility,” she says.
Kids shouldn’t feel like they’re being sent away from home, but that they’re choosing to go to the March Break or summer camp. Tell them what their days and week will be like and that there will be other campers just like them, along with staff who can help them with any problems. She reminds parents that camp staff are highly trained in the physical and emotional care of children, and the low staff-to-camper ratio means they can keep a close eye on everyone.
Stawicki recommends a trip to a cottage and sleepovers at a friend’s house to get kids accustomed to sleeping away from home and family before heading for the week-long camp.
Often the real fear is coming from the parents, she says. “The children get there and love it and want to stay an extra week, whereas the parents are the ones missing the kids.”
Homesickness is a “natural, healthy” emotion, she says, and parents can prepare kids for it by letting them know they might feel lonely, perhaps comparing it to a tummy ache.
It might seem like a good idea to call the camp daily to make sure your child is not homesick, but that can backfire.
“It’s really only going to increase any homesick feelings if the parents continuously call during the camp session,” she says. Instead of calling, parents can send a package with treats and a photo from home, timing it so the parcel arrives two days into the break.