Homesickness Prevention Strategies For Children
Almost everyone misses something about home while they're away, but travel - including summer camp for kids - offers opportunities to grow and develop. Edward "Skip" Walton, M.D., director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak and board member of the American Camp Association, offers the following tips.
* Involve your child in the decision to spend time away from home to increase his perception of control. By contrast, feeling forced to leave home often increases the severity of homesickness.
* Discuss the upcoming separation with your child. Tell him homesickness is normal and that there are lots of things to think and do to help make things better.
* Discuss coping strategies with your child, such doing something fun, like playing with friends, to forget about homesick feelings or going to see someone who can talk with him to help him feel better.
* Arrange for practice time away from home, such as a weekend at a friend's or relative's house. After the practice time away, talk to your child about how things went and which coping strategies worked best.
* Practice correspondence. Ensuring that children know how to write traditional letters increases the likelihood that they will maintain some contact with home. Give your child pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes and stationery.
* Work together with your child to learn about his new environment. The more young people know about the new place, the more at home they will feel. Web sites, orientation booklets and current participants, alumni or staff members are excellent resources.
* Help your child get to know some of the people in the new environment. Having at least one familiar face can diminish homesickness and increase feelings of support and connection. Encourage your child to make new friends and seek the support of trusted adults.
* Avoid expressing anxious or ambivalent feelings about time away from home to your child. Express enthusiasm about the fun he is going to have.
* Use a wall calendar to show the time between today and the day of separation. Highlight the days away to show it's a limited time. During the separation, a calendar may be a way for your child to keep perspective.
* Don't make a "pick-up deal." Promising that "if you don't like it, I'll come pick you up" decreases your child's likelihood of success. It will give the impression that you have little confidence in his ability to cope. If he asks "What if I feel homesick?" respond with a statement such as "You probably will feel a little homesick, but your practice time away has taught you what to think or do just in case. Plus, staff will be there to talk with you and help you."