Goodbyes are always difficult, especially when they take place in a brand new setting like camp. However, as a parent, it is important that you remember your children will follow your lead. If you are clinging to your child, lingering, sobbing or displaying doubt, they will follow suit. Likewise, if you are strong, encouraging, and optimistic, they will respond in kind! A tearful (but smiling) goodbye and a quick hug is a perfect way to send them off!
DO prepare your campers with conversations before camp. Remind them that they will be part of a cabin unit, which means sharing responsibilities and chores with their cabin-mates. Encourage them to try new things even if they are scared. Reinforce the truth that it’s more important to show love and kindness and respect to those around them than it is to be the best at something. Remind them that you are proud of them and confident in who they are. Share your excitement for the adventure that lies ahead!
DON’T emphasize how much you are going to miss your son or daughter. Turn the conversation away from how much you’ll miss each other and instead focus on how much you love one another. You can never tell your child you love them too many times! Communicating with them in a positive way will free them up to enjoy the wonderful gift you have given them. DON’T make promises you can’t keep, such as, “I promise I’ll write you every day!” The truth is, you’ll probably be too busy to write (and they’ll be having too much fun to notice!)
A common concern for parents and campers alike is homesickness. One of the most helpful resources we’ve discovered on this topic is the book, “Homesick and Happy”, by Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D. In his book, he provides four useful practices to help work through homesickness even before dropping off your child off at camp.
“The first and most important thing that parents can do is to have confidence in [their] child’s ability to manage the challenge of being away, and to have faith in [their] child’s ability to beat homesickness. If a child looks into the face of a parent and sees real doubt, it will inflame the child’s own doubts.” (Page 89+90)
“The second thing that parents can do is talk with their children about the possibility of homesickness. Many parents imagine that talking about it will fan the fires of worry, so they do not discuss it. If you avoid the topic of homesickness, you are ensuring that your child won’t know how or what you think about it, or whether you ever experienced it in childhood. Most important, he won’t know whether you believe that he is capable of getting over it. Though it seems obvious to say so, children do not have a lot of life experience. They need you to help them anticipate both their pain and their strengths.” (Page 90+91)
“Third, parents can arrange for their children to practice being away. If you are going to send a child off to camp, you should encourage her to have that practice weekend with a friend, an aunt, or her grandparents. It does not take a lot of success to change a child’s negative opinion of himself. Neither parental reassurance nor parental optimism are going to be anywhere near as effective as a child’s own achievements in persuading himself that he is ready.” (Page 91+92)
“…Campers who feel more in control of the process suffer less from homesickness, so it is good to involve the child in choosing the camp, getting to know the camp, and shopping and packing for camp.” (Page 92)