Helping kids avoid or cope with homesickness

Armen Hareyan's picture

How to cope with homesickness

A new report urges parents and children's doctors to change their thinking about homesickness among children, to see it as a nearly universal but highly preventable and treatable phenomenon - rather than an unavoidable part of childhood.

The report, published in the journal Pediatrics, gives parents and physicians specific guidance to help anticipate and lessen the distress that homesickness can cause among kids and teens at summer camps, hospitals, boarding schools and colleges.

The paper's authors are a clinical psychologist at one of the nation's leading boarding schools, Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, and a University of Michigan physician who specializes in camp health issues. They're also old friends who first met at summer camp more than 25 years ago.


It's the first time that the evidence about homesickness prevention and treatment, which has been gathered through years of psychological studies, has been presented for pediatricians and family doctors to use.

The authors, and the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on School Health that sponsored the report, hope that those physicians will add homesickness counseling to children's camp and school physicals, and to the care of hospitalized children. They also point out special issues for children who have attention deficit disorder or developmental issues -- for example, the importance of continuing the use of medications for those conditions while at camp and not taking a "drug holiday."

"For over 100 years camps and schools have patted homesick kids on the back, tried to keep them busy and hoped it will go away," says lead author Christopher Thurber, Ph.D., the staff psychologist at Exeter, research consultant to the American Camp Association and author of a camp handbook for parents. "But research shows that it's healthier, and more effective to think about prevention. This report aims to get the message to parents and those who are taking care of kids before they go to camp."

One of the basic tips for parents and doctors is to talk to kids ahead of any separation, whether it's for camp, college, or a hospital stay of even a few days.

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