Parents Universal Resource Experts – Sue Scheff: Sleepaway Camp – Homesickness and Your Kids

It is finally here – summer. Whether your kids are going to summer camp, visiting their grandparents or  other family members or visiting friends for an extended time, be sure they are emotionally ready.

Parenting Expert and author, Dr. Michele Borba, has done the research on easing your child into their summer sleep away experience. Here are some research-based pointers to help your child–and you–have a fun time and great memories.

  • Be sure your kid is ready. Is your child sleeping in her own bed through the night or is she climbing in with you at two o’clock in the morning? Does she have any problems separating from you when she goes to school, the baby-sitters, or day care? Does your child get along with this kid well enough to spend a whole night together? Does she feel comfortable with the child’s parents? If not, forget sending her away to that pricey two-week camp. Chances are she won’t make it through day one. Hint: A survey conducted by Sesame Street found that most parents say children are old enough to spend the night at around the age of seven. Do keep in mind that the age is not set in stone: it all depends on the child and you are the one who knows your child best.
  • Do a practice. For a reluctant child, have the first sleepover be at your home. It sometimes helps if your child uses the same “security items” (for a real sleepover at your home first. Or try having your child spend the night with Grandma and Grandpa or a special cousin.
  • Find a buddy. Any buddy!!! Research says kids always feel more secure away from home if they know at least one other child. It could be a child she knows from her hometown (and she doesn’t have to be best friends with the kid), or ask the camp counselor to give you an email address or phone number of a similar-aged child as yours. Maybe they can connect before you drop her off.
  • Pack a few “security items.” A few packed items can make even the most anxious kid more comfortable. For instance: a flashlight if she fears the dark or staying in a strange house; a granola bar or sandwich (in case they “hate” the meal); a sleeping bag with a rubber sheet tucked inside might help a bed wetter feel more comfortable just in case he has an accident; their own pillow or blanket; even a cell phone for reassurance that she can call you anytime if really needed. Think of what might make your child feel safer. Better yet, have your child think up what he needs to feel more at home.
  • Meet the counselors or parents. No matter how old your child is, do meet the camp counselors or parents face to face. You want to be sure they will be supervising the whole night, have your phone number handy, and clarify that if there are any problems you want to be called.
  • Show off the activities. Other than finding one buddy to “hang with” the next thing researchers say what alleviates homesickness is involvement in an activity (tennis, crafts, kayaking, swimming, beading…anything). If you can get your child excited about one activity he will be more likely to feel a little more comfortable. And he’ll have something to look forward to doing.
  • Have a positive send-off. Be cheerful and optimistic as you pack and get ready to go. Do wait until your child looks settled. Give her a big hug and kiss. Then leave. But researchers stress to curb homesickness: “Do not linger.”
  • Breathe when the phone call comes. Homesickness is normal. It is far more prevalent with younger kids and those who have never been away from home. It is also common with college-aged kids. So don’t go thinking your child is not adjusted if you get that “MOMM!!! I hate it here!” call. Instead, listen. Just listen. Telling her to get over it, or it will get better, doesn’t seem to work (says the research again). Don’t promise you’ll call her 50 times a day either. Bad move again says researchers. You can tell her to call again tomorrow. Listen to the tone in her voice. Talk to the camp counselor (without her knowing). And then make your decision (can she wait it out – or it is better to pick her up) based on your child.
  • Downplay failure. So what if your kid doesn’t make it all through the night? If you want this to work in the long run, emphasize the positive accomplishment. “You stayed there two hours past your bedtime. That was much longer than last time.” “It’s not a big deal. You’ll have lots of opportunities to spend the night at friends’ houses again.” There’s always next year!

This research is an example of the vast amount of parenting information Dr. Michele Borba has compiled in her Big Book of Parenting Solutions.  If you don’t have a copy of it, be sure to pick one up or order one on Amazon today.  It also makes the perfect baby shower gift, it is a library of everything you need to know about parenting and more!

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