How to Talk to Your Children Before and During the Camp
Homesickness is the most difficult part of camp for the children as well as the staff. First of all, homesickness is highly contagious. While every child (yes, even counselors) gets homesick, 20% require some level of intervention by the staff. The basic rule of thumb is that if the child is having a good time during the day but cries at night, it is probably not something to get too worried about. However, if the child shows signs of distress and anxiety during the day, we are obligated to escalate to the parents.
Getting over homesickness is something every child has to endure at some point in life. For younger children below 10 years old, we recommend parents come with them to camp. It is very difficult for the little ones to overcome homesickness alone, especially if they have led very sheltered lives. For older kids, above 10 years of age, it is time to learn to take care of oneself and assume some responsibility and accountability to others.
There are many ways parents can help children cope with homesickness before camp starts and while the camp is in session. It is worth following these measures, because it will significantly lower your child’s anxiety and give him courage to overcome the challenge.
BEFORE CAMP: Talk about all the positives of going to camp. “Camp in Hawaii is fun and exciting!” “I wish my parents sent me to camp when I was your age.” “You will meet new friends and learn lots of things at camp.” “I will be proud of you for being so brave.” Two weeks before camp, provide the reasons why camp is good. Say “Aren’t you excited about camp? I heard that American kids go to camp every summer. I wish they had camp like this when I was your age…”. You should keep repeating this at least 5 to 10 times because the message with children will not register if you do it only once. DO NOT SAY: “We are not sure if you are going to like it but it will be good for you.” “If you don’t like it, you can come back.” “I will come and get you.” “We will miss you so much.”
DURING CAMP: We ask the parents not to call the children during the first 10 days of the 5-week program and first 7 days of the 3-week program. Children are asked to write a journal or write a letter home rather than call home during this period. This keeps children focused on their time at camp. For kids who are experiencing more difficulty coping with homesickness, we observe them more closely and spend a lot of time with them and help them integrate into activities with other kids. During the first call with the child, we recommend that parents continue to focus on the positive. You should say, “I am so proud of you for being so brave. I knew you could do this!” “I saw all the photos of where you have been. I wish I had the opportunity to see that myself.” “Isn’t it amazing how fast the time has gone by? You make the most of the next two weeks!” DO NOT SAY: “I miss you so much! The dog misses you too.” “I will have all the food you like ready for you!” “Tell me all the bad stuff you have experienced.”
We intentionally keep the schedule tight and children active so they have little time to think about home. We also ask parents who are at camp with small children to be careful around children who came alone and provide some guidelines.
Statistically, one in 50 children will return home due to their inability to adjust to camp life. When I was in college, I had to drive 5 hours to pick up my high school cousin from music camp. The big issue was that she was not really musical and felt low esteem. At Camp Hokulea, we will help children with low esteem or even behavioral problems. However, when we feel the child could be harmful to himself or herself and others, we will promptly discuss options with the child’s parent and offer our honest recommendation with the child at the center.