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Did you go to summer camp this year? What happened?
--From Subha, 13

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Summer Camp: Homesickness

Boy crying and missing family

Topics on Summer Camp:
Take Chances,
    Make Memories
Why Go To Camp?
Choosing A Camp
Get Ready, Get Packed
Making Friends
Homesickness
I'm Worried About...
Casey's Story
From the Mentors
Sometimes, feeling homesick is also a big part of the camp experience.

Panda, 8 told us: "When I was in summer camp I missed my family, so I wrote them a note. Then they wrote me a note back that said about how they felt the first time they went to summer camp with a picture of them and a stuffed animal to keep me company."

Says Ruth, 12: "The first night there was AWFUL! I was cold (we were up in the mountains) and I was homesick and I cried a lot. I think it was in the middle of the night when I finally fell asleep. But the rest was fun. I made new friends and I can't wait until next year."

When you're far away from your home, family, and friends, it's only natural to feel a little sad inside. There might be times, especially at night, when you feel a little sick to your stomach. You might wish you were back in familiar surroundings, and you might even find yourself crying. This is totally normal, but there ARE ways to deal with it and go on to have a great time at camp. Here are some things that can really help:

Remember that you're not the only person feeling this way

  • Feeling homesick is bad enough, but it can make things worse if you think you're the only camper dealing with this sort of fear and sadness.

  • The truth is, most campers go through times when they miss their family or friends back home.

  • Tell yourself that it's okay to feel a little sad, but it doesn't mean you're not ready for camp or won't have a wonderful time.

Have a reminder of home

  • When you start to miss home, it can help to have a photo of your family or pet to keep by your bed.

  • You might also want to bring your own pillow or blanket from home so you feel more comfortable. (But remember: don't bring anything that's so special you couldn't bear it if it got lost or stolen.)

  • Ask a family member to write you an encouraging letter that you can read in bed, or give you a special necklace you can wear so he or she will always be with you in spirit.

  • Before you leave for camp, set aside some little tokens (like a small toy or a favorite book) that will remind you of home and ask a parent to send one to you every few days or every week.

Write plenty of letters

  • This will not only make you feel closer to the people you are writing to, but it will help you collect your thoughts, sort out your emotions (just like writing in a journal, which is also a good idea) and remind you of all the things you're doing at camp.

  • If you're feeling lonely at the end of the day, sit down and write a letter about the stuff you did since you woke up-you might realize that it was a pretty awesome day after all!

Call home-IF it will help

  • Your camp will probably have a phone you can use to make a call home when you need to.

  • You don't want to make this a daily habit, because then you won't be committing yourself to your time at the camp. But if you're feeling down, hearing mom or dad's voice can help a lot.

  • For some kids, however, calling home can actually make things harder, so before you dial ask yourself, "Is talking with my family going to make me feel better, or more homesick?" Some camps actually make it a rule that campers can't call home unless it's an emergency.

Talk to a counselor

  • It's your counselors' job to be there for you if you have feelings about being away from home.

  • Since counselors have heard the same sort of stuff from lots of other campers, they will probably have some good ideas for helping you out and making it easier for you to adjust to camp life.

  • Your counselor may even be able to match you up with other campers who are feeling the same way, or older campers who have been through it and know how to deal.

Try to make friends

  • If you're homesick, feeling lonely can just make things worse.

  • Although there may be times when you need to be alone with your feelings, nothing washes away sadness like spending time with someone you like. So get to know your counselors and cabin mates, and spend time being social.

  • Being a "part of the group" can make homesickness fade away, and eventually the other campers can even feel like a new family to you!

  • Believe it or not, when you get home, you might miss your counselors and camp friends as much as you missed your regular family!

Remember that "different" can be good

  • One of the things that make it hard for many kids to adjust to camp at first is that everything seems strange.

  • You're sleeping someplace new, interacting with people you just met, eating different food-it can all seem like the first day of school, except you don't go back home at the end of the day!

  • To feel better, try to remember that new things can be exciting instead of scary.

  • Try to change your attitude so that you're enthusiastic about new experiences, instead of freaked out by them.

  • Remember: If nothing ever changed, life would be boring, right?

Stay active and busy

  • It's harder to feel homesick when you're having a good time, so make sure you get out of your cabin and participate in lots of camp activities.

  • When your days are filled up with fun, you won't have as much time to think about the things you miss about being home.

  • Getting involved with games, activities, and camp traditions can also make it easier to make friends.

  • Before you know it, you might be so into camp that you wish you could stay longer!

Make plans for visiting day

  • Many camps, especially ones that last for more than a couple weeks, have a special day when family and friends can visit. If you're thinking about home a lot, this day can be a lifesaver-and give you a nice taste of what you've been missing.

  • Think about what you want to do when your loved ones show up, and about all the cool camp stories you want to tell them.

  • Showing them around the camp can even remind you of why you were so excited to go there in the first place, and make your remaining camp days easier and more fun.

What If You Try These Things, And You Still Feel Like You Need To Go Home?

If you're absolutely miserable, or hurt in some way, your parents will come to the camp and bring you home, or arrange for you to come home some other way. But campers should only quit under extreme circumstances, because the truth is that it really does get better. Here are some ideas to help get you over the hump:

Try to make it through the first few nights

  • The very first nights at camp can be the hardest, and feelings of homesickness might be very strong.

  • Almost all campers who tough it out and stay will tell you that it gets much easier. Once you get into the swing of camp life, you'll be having fun, meeting new people, and staying busy. The homesickness will get much easier to bear.

Avoid making a "come get me" promise with your family

  • Many people are nervous or upset when they head off to camp for the first time, and they ask their parents questions like: "If I don't like it, will you come pick me up?" Many parents agree to this deal, because it gives kids the confidence they need to show up at camp.

  • This kind of promise can actually HURT, because it means that you might not be totally committed to the idea of staying at camp. If you've always got your eye on the door and are ready to call home for your "pick-up," you won't do the things you need to fit in and make friends.

Instead, make a promise to do your best

  • Decide that you're in for the long haul and make a promise to yourself that you'll stay and make the most out of a great opportunity. Once you get through the first days, you'll probably be fine, and in the following weeks, and over the next several years, you might be very glad you made the commitment to becoming a camper.

  • Remember: Camp can be one of the greatest experiences of your life, even if it's a little hard at first. You might someday look back on your great memories and wonder why you ever thought about quitting!

The Day Camp Option

Remember: For many kids, sleepaway camp is just not a good fit, especially when they're young. If you're super nervous about your first camp experience and are afraid of sleeping in a new place, you might try day camp, at least for your first year.

When you go away to a typical day camp, you have the chance to hike, swim, do crafts, play sports-almost everything kids do at residential camps. But at the end of the day, you go back home and sleep in your own house. This means no homesickness! Then once you have the hang of the whole camp thing and are sure you can make friends, you might be ready for a camp where you don't go home for a week or longer.

Besides homesickness, you may have other questions that we'll answer in the next section: I'm Worried About...

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