Daughter: “I don’t want to go to summer camp.”
Mother: “Oh honey, don’t you like camp?”
Daughter: “I hate it. I want to stay with you today.”
Mother: “Oh, I wish we could play together, too. I miss you when you’re at camp. How about this? You go to camp for a few hours and then, if you’re still sad, I’ll pick you up?”
Daughter: “No. I don’t want to go at all”
Mother: “And we can get ice cream after?”
Yes, this was an embarrassingly true exchange I had on one too many mornings last summer. I knew it was terribly unproductive parenting, but my guilt at sending my daughter off every morning to a camp when I would rather have spent the day with her was clouding my judgement.
I also wasn’t sure which of my mistakes was the worst.
Was it that I engaged daily? That I bribed? The camp I had chosen?
Turns out her resistance was normal and I was making it worse for all of the above reasons and for one more: My own angst.
Homesickness strikes many kids who attend summer camps, especially sleep-away camps where the vast majority of kids experience it on some level, according to author and child psychologist Christopher Thurber.
It’s compounded, however, when a parent is anxious about the separation too, Thurber has found.
The research, which Perri Klass wrote about in the New York Times today and is available in depth on the American Camp Association Web site, has influenced how experts advise parents to deal with homesickness.
For instance, validation of homesickness is fine and helpful, but adding to the dread is not.
“Before the separation, don’t make comments that express anxiety or ambivalence about the child going away. Even ‘I hope you’ll be okay’ or ‘What will I do without you?’ can leave a child worried that something bad might happen to them or their parents, and make them preoccupied with thoughts of home,” reads ones of the tips that Thurber and the Camp Association have compiled.
Another one I wish I read a year ago: Don’t promise to pick up a child early.
“This undermines the child’s sense that their parents have confidence in their ability to be on their own, and set an expectation that they won’t like the new experience.”
I might add that promising ice cream if they bail out early doesn’t help either.
Are your kids having a hard time with summer camp? What are your strategies for helping them handle homesickness?