Coping With Summer Camp Blues

campers, boat
For many kids going off to summer camp, the biggest challenge of the experience comes when they have to say goodbye to their parents. Saturday Early Show adolescence counselor Mike Riera has some tips on handling your child's anxiety.

Handling The Homesickness

Be realistic with your child. The child can't trust the emotion - or you - if you don't acknowledge the feeling. Explain that it might be sad or scary at first, but that the child will get over it, make friends and get used to the place.

If you are really concerned, call a camp counselor before your child leaves to communicate your concern that the child might be homesick. It will help if a counselor knows a little about your kid in advance.

Don't be afraid to look in the mirror: are you encouraging homesickness? Many parents inadvertently do, because it makes them feel valued. When kids are too eager to go it's a sure sign they are growing up, which can be scary for their parents.

Anticipating The Transition

Most kids will initially be homesick. To judge how much, think about how your child handled the transition to kindergarten or a first sleepover at a friend's house. That's your child's transition pattern, so expect something along those lines. Some kids run to the other children on the first day of kindergarten. Others cling to their parents for hours. They'll probably do a version of the same thing at camp.

More Than Just Homesickness?

Your child might be sad as you get ready to leave, and maybe even cry. This is natural. Some will even get a headache or a stomachache. Again, this is not unusual.

Some will get more serious psychosomatic symptoms, throwing up, getting dizzy or maybe even faint. This is much more serious. You'll need to work with the camp to make sure your child is monitored. Ultimately, it may be too soon for the child to be away.

If a child gets apathetic and responds to nothing, take it seriously. You should get the child to a doctor immediately, and probably to a counselor shortly thereafter.

If our child has trouble with the transition, don't worry. It doesn't signal a life-long problem. It's more than likely just a phase the child's going through.

The Dreaded Call Home

If you get a call from your sobbing child begging to be brought home, don't panic. Just listen and be reassuring.

Look at the clock. You are most likely to get this response just before bedtime. Some kids are fine with a babysitter until the parents call to say goodnight; the parents' voices set them off crying for mommy and daddy.

If you are still worried, call the camp counselor. Many kids are fine when they're around the other kids but miserable when they talk to mom and dad. They tend to exaggerate their feelings to their parents, especially late in the day.

Sharing Their Experience

There are a few ways to share the camp experience with your child.

  • Send care packages.
  • Write letters, and give your child addressed and stamped envelopes with
    writing paper so the child can write back to you.
  • Give the child a disposable camera and ask for pictures of the other kids and of their activities. Then have the child mail them to you. Develop them and look at them as you talk over the phone about the child's new friends and experiences.
  • The clincher: have a photo album already started when the child gets home.

Most kids adjust in the first day. For some it takes three or four days. It's a good idea to call after the first day to see how your child is progressing and help take the anxiety out of going away to camp.