How to Pick a Summer Camp (cont.)

Dealing with Homesickness

"About 95% of all boys and girls between 8 and 16 experience some feelings of homesickness on at least two days of a two-week stay at camp," says Thurber.

While younger kids are more likely to be homesick, the better predictor of whether any child will experience homesickness is the kinds of experiences the child has had with previous overnight stays, such as weekends with grandparents or sleepovers at friends' houses.

"Avoiding homesickness all comes down to the child's attitude," says Thurber, whose scientific work focuses on how kids deal with separation at camp. "That's why it is so very important to include the child in the decision process about a camp. Kids who feel forced to go to a camps are much more likely to feel homesick than are kids who feel like they had a chance to influence the decision process."

Another important aspect of avoiding homesickness is to talk about it.

"There's a conventional idea that if you mention homesickness, you'll just make them focus on it," says Thurber. "But it doesn't work that way. Have an open discussion with your kids about how they feel about going away. What's most important here is that the parent gives the message that he or she believes the child can handle the stress of being away, that the child is competent at handling temporary, uncomfortable feelings."

Thurber says one mistake many parents make is in having "pick-up deals" with kids. "They say, 'If you feel homesick, I will come and get you.'" Says Thurber. "But that sends the message that you think the child is not competent to deal with an important life challenge. That's not a good message to send."

If you've involved you child along the way, they may have some anxiety, but they aren't likely to feel frightened for long.

"Parents should also make sure the child gets some practice time at sleepovers," says Thurber. "Spend a weekend at the grandparents or have a sleepover at a friend's house."

Afterward, parents can talk with a child about how they felt being away and what made them feel better if they were homesick.

Originally published May 20, 2002.

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