Dear Dr. Yael,
We are sending our daughter to sleep-away camp for the second half of the summer. She begs us to send her every year, so we give in, even though it is not cheap. The last two years, she struggled with being homesick, but then she ends up having a great time and wants to go back every year. Please help us deal with the homesickness, so the beginning of camp is not as difficult this summer.
Homesickness is common in kids and teenagers and it’s important for them to know that it’s okay. It’s also important for them to know that it can manifest itself in other ways – they may feel anxious or even get angry easily. They may just feel “off,” and contend with headaches, stomachaches, obsessive thoughts and stress.
Here are some suggestions that may help your daughter overcome her feelings.
- Take along pictures of family or close friends – but not too many.
- Comfort food can also be helpful or a specific food from home that she enjoys. Maybe you can send her something for her first Shabbos.
- It’s helpful to talk about feelings of homesickness, so if there’s a head counselor, camp mother, or therapist at camp, maybe they can help her process her feelings. Research has shown that talking about your feelings can almost be like a release of pent up emotions. We just want to be sure that she doesn’t become obsessive, so she should balance talking with distracting herself.
- Keeping a journal has also been found to be helpful in remediating homesickness. Your daughter should focus on the positive things taking place in camp and the fun she is experiencing – not on how much she misses you. Positive thoughts will help to put her in a good mood.
- Exercising – it increases endorphins, a natural way to fight depression and anxiety (both side effects of feeling homesick). Exercising with a friend will also help her socialize more. So instead of spending all of her rest time crying or calling you, she should ask a friend to go for a brisk walk or join her in a game – it will be fun and helpful.
- Tell your daughter that whether she feels like it or not, she should participate in all camp activities. Another way of staying busy and having fun.
- Teach your daughter some calming techniques for when she feels anxious – deep breathing (inhaling a long, deep breath, holding her breath for a few seconds, and then exhaling very slowly), thinking of calming scenes (closing her eyes and imagining she is in a scene that is calming), and imagining upcoming fun and exciting experiences are all helpful. They work better when practiced in advance, so she should be doing them even when she is not anxious.
- Even though camp is not really the best place for this, talk to your daughter about the importance of getting enough sleep and eating well. When kids do not eat or sleep well they are crankier and more likely to feel “off.”
- Give your daughter plenty of encouragement and positive self-talk statements such as “I can do this!” “I will have a great time!” and “I know how to calm myself if I feel stressed and I will be happy and fine.”
Hatzlocha with your daughter. We hope she has a great summer.