Happy June and the start of GAC 2023! Here are 30 ideas of how we can be kind to others this month. Enjoy! You can download a printable version here!
You’re anticipating with much excitement your camper’s first letter from camp. It finally arrives, and this is what it says…
“I want to come home!”
“It’s awful here.”
“I hate everything.”
“This is worse than prison.”
Option #1: Hop in your car and drive to rescue your child immediately.
Option #2: Take a deep breath and think about possible next steps.
As a veteran camp director with a lot of experience helping campers (and parents) work through the difficult transition that often accompanies being away from home, especially the first time, I would highly recommend you choose option 2. It will be better for both you and your child.
Getting a sad letter from your child is difficult, but, as experienced camp parents will tell you, you should expect to receive at least one sad letter during your camper’s time at camp. Letters are usually written during quiet times when campers are feeling more reflective. Often, even when they’ve written a super sad letter, the camper is actually adjusting well to camp and is letting you know the emotions they felt during a particularly down time (like rest hour or bedtime).
If you feel uneasy after hearing from your camper, here are a few steps you can take (after your deep breaths, of course):
Whether you’re communicating with your camper via postcards, letters, email, or phone, here are some ideas for how you can respond to their sad, homesick pleas from camp.
Your child might be genuinely feeling severe discomfort from being away from home. Acknowledge that by saying, “I know you feel miserable right now and I’m sorry this is so hard for you.” However, if they ask to be picked up early or talk to you on the phone, remind them that you’re going to stick with letter-writing only and that you’re not coming to get them early!
Reassure them that you have confidence in their ability to face this challenge and have a great camp experience. Say, “Even though you don’t feel like you can do this, I know you can.” Let them know how proud you are of their independence and how excited you are to hear of their accomplishments when they finish camp.
Redirect the conversation to something positive. Comment on a recent picture you saw of them online: I saw a picture of you jumping off your paddle board! It looked like so much fun! You can also help your child focus on the positive by reminding them of some of the positive things of camp that they don’t get to experience at home: “I can’t believe you get to have a campfire with marshmallows every night. Lucky duck!” Sometimes kids are concerned that they’re missing out on things happening at home or get worried about you missing them too much. Update them on some of the boring, busywork happening at home to assure them that camp is where they’re supposed to be. Asking questions about an activity they were particularly excited about or about their cabin mates and counselors can also be fun.
As you deal with hearing about your child’s discomfort, it’s important to remind yourself and your camper why you chose the camp experience in the first place! Sometimes homesickness is part of the growth process, but we can instill confidence in our campers by encouraging them through uncomfortable and challenging situations rather than completely removing them from all sources of discomfort.
For many kids, camp is their first step toward independence. Leaving the familiarity of home for the first time, most kids experience some degree of discomfort or unease as they adjust to new people, activities, challenges, and experiences. These feelings of discomfort are completely normal, and it is important to discuss the normalcy of homesickness and feeling uncomfortable in new environments before your child leaves for camp.
In Homesick and Happy, Michael Thompson says that “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life … If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”
Real growth only comes when we’re stretched beyond our comfort zones, and that is why so many campers grow more confident during their time at camp: their comfort zone is stretched and they succeed in meeting the new challenges. Some kids end up adjusting and feeling comfortable quickly while others have a harder time adjusting. Either way, there are several ways you can both prepare and support your camper before and during their time at camp.
The biggest struggle for parents often is having to hear about the discomfort of their children as they navigate homesickness, but experienced camp leaders are well-equipped to encourage and come alongside both you and your child to make camp the most positive experience possible!
Article originally published at Sunshine Parenting.
Audrey “Sunshine” Monke, MA, has been the owner of Gold Arrow Camp since 1989 and currently serves as the Chief Visionary Officer. In addition to her vision-casting and mentoring at GAC, Sunshine is an author (Happy Campers: 9 Summer Camp Secrets for Raising Kids Who Become Thriving Adults), podcast host, speaker and coach on the topics of parenting, social skills, and happiness. Find out more at her website, Sunshine Parenting.
Sunshine & Michael Thompson, Ph.D. on the GAC POGcast
Homesick and Happy Book Discussion Guide
“Kidsickness: Help for First-Time Camp Parents”
10 Desperate Letters I Wrote From Sleepaway Camp
P.S. I Hate it Here (Book of letters from camp)
Homesick & Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow (book) by Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
Summer Camp Handbook (online edition), by Dr. Christopher Thurber
Gold Arrow Camp is celebrating 90 years! If you are a former GAC camper or staff member, please help us celebrate this incredible milestone on August 19, 2023.
If you’re not sure that we have your current contact information, please join our searchable Alumni Guestbook. Gold Arrow Camp has a long, rich history and we would like to continue to update our alumni database to share upcoming reunion events and news.
Check out more details and a link to register for the 90th Year Reunion Dinner.
We hope you’ll join us on August 19 to reminisce about your days (and years) spent at good ‘ol G-A-C.
Hello everyone! It’s a new month so that means new opportunities to show kindness to those around us! Click here to download the printable version.
Join the GAC Runners for the Schoolhouse Rocks 5K in Menlo Park! We’re thrilled to be back to help support the Menlo Park – Atherton Education Foundation at this great event. We’ll be at the expo before and after the race, so please come and see us. The race starts at 9:00 AM, and we’ll be taking a group picture with all of our GAC friends and families at our booth at 10:15 AM.
Information and registration available here.
Learn more about GAC Runners! While you’re reading about the GAC Runners, you can also tell us what races you’re running and request your GAC Runners socks!
Read more of Sunshine’s camp-related posts at her website, Sunshine Parenting.
“Children want to be independent, and they realize that they cannot be truly independent until they beat homesickness, even when they have a painful case of it.”
– Michael Thompson, PhD., Homesick and Happy
Recently I spoke with a mom whose 11-year-old son is coming to camp in a few days. He’s nervous. He had a negative experience at a one-week science camp. He doesn’t think he can “make it for two weeks” and is worried he’ll be too homesick to make it at camp. I chatted with the mom and gave her some key messages to communicate to her son. She asked for them in bullet points in an email, and I thought there are probably others who might benefit from this same list, so I’m sharing this with anyone who has a child suffering from pre-camp anxiety.
Before I share my list, let me say that if you are not a camp proponent and don’t plan on sending your child to camp, you should probably not read any further. I am a huge supporter of camp and recently had a JC (Junior Counselor) tell me that “Camp made her who she is today.” So, I think that camp is a great thing for building kids’ independence and confidence. I have also seen many kids work through some pretty painful emotions at camp, so I know that camp is not easy for all kids.
We have 7-year-olds at our camp who do great during our two-week sessions. They are the ones who’ve begged their parents to let them come to camp and generally have older siblings who’ve attended camp. I also talk to a lot of parents with older kids who “aren’t sure if they’re ready for camp.” One thing I’ve learned after close to three decades at camp is that the same kids who are anxious and hesitant about going to camp when they’re nine or ten will still be anxious when they’re 13. And they may not be interested in going away to college when they’re 18, either.
So, as a parent, you need to decide how to approach your child’s separation anxiety, as well as your own. You can avoid it and not send them to camp and hope that they develop independence in other ways, which is definitely possible. Or, you can bite the bullet, give them these positive messages, and send them off to camp with a smile, knowing that it may be hard for them, but they will grow from the experience.
In Michael Thompson, PhD.’s book Homesick and Happy, he says “It is the very challenge of camp that makes it such a life-changing experience for so many children.” I know there are many parents and children who just can’t stomach the idea of going through some painful time apart. Again, you need not read further if you are not sending your reluctant child to camp.
This post is for those of you who have decided that your child is going to camp, and especially for those of you who had a previously excited camper who is now having last-minute camp anxiety. Here are some messages you can give prior to dropping your camper at the bus or at camp. Pick and choose, and of course, use your own words, but acknowledge your child’s feelings and empathize with them while holding firm in your confidence in their ability to succeed and your belief that camp will be good for them.
“You may feel homesick, and that’s okay. A lot of kids feel that way. That just means that you love us and you love home. I feel homesick when I’m on trips, too. Missing home is part of life. But I know you can still have fun at camp, even if you feel sad sometimes.”
“There are adults at camp (counselors, directors) who are there to take care of you and help you with anything you need. They can help with things you normally come to me about. Let them know if you are feeling sad, and they can help you. They have lots of experience working with kids who are away from home for the first time.”
Something along the lines of: “It may seem like a long way off, but in a few years, you’ll be ready for college. I want you to feel confident in your ability to live away from me so that you can choose any school you like, even if it’s far away from home. Think of camp like your practice time for when you’re older and ready to move away for school or a job. You’ll get better at being independent by starting now, when you’re young, with short spurts of time away. Some kids aren’t doing well when they start college because they don’t have any experience being away from home. I want you to feel great when you go to college because you’ll know that you’ve already been successful with short camp stays.”
If you have a story from your own life of something that you had to work hard at or had to go through difficulties in order to master, this is a great time to share. Something along the lines of, “Many good things in life aren’t easy at first. Learning a new sport or trying something new is really hard. Sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone to discover something you really love. If you never go through anything hard, you’re going to miss out on some great experiences. The first few days of camp may be hard, and that’s okay. I know you’ll work through it and figure out what makes you feel better. I have confidence in you, and I am so proud of you for going to camp and trying this new adventure!
“I am so excited that you get to go to camp this year. I know it’s going to be such a great experience for you and that you are ready for this.” If you went to camp, share with your camper what you liked about it and how you grew from the experience.
“Every day comes with its good and bad parts. When you’re at camp, I want you to write me letters and tell me all of the stuff that you’re doing and feeling. If you feel homesick at rest time, tell me about it, and also tell me what you did to help yourself. Did you talk to your counselor? Keep yourself busy playing cards with friends? Write me a letter? I also want you to share good stuff. Did you get your favorite food for lunch? Try rock climbing? Get up on a kneeboard? I want to hear both the good and bad things about camp in your letters.”
“Even if you’re a little homesick for the whole time you’re at camp, you’re going to feel so much better about the experience if you stick it out and make the best of it. Most kids feel better after a few days of getting settled in and adjusted, and I know you’ll feel great once you let yourself relax and just start enjoying all the fun things at camp. I’m not going to pick you up early, no matter what, because I know you will feel really proud of yourself for making it through camp, even if you have some hard days.”
In Homesick and Happy, Thompson says, “Homesickness is not a psychiatric illness. It is not a disorder. It is the natural, inevitable consequence of leaving home. Every child is going to feel it, more or less, sooner or later. Every adult has had to face it and overcome it at some point in life … If you cannot master it, you cannot leave home.”
I would like to note that you do not need to use all of these messages but instead choose the ones you think will resonate most with your child. What’s most important is that you express confidence in your child and in the camp experience. These same messages would be great as responses to a sad letter you receive from your camper.
I always tell the kids that the fun and happy feelings at camp usually far outweigh any sad feelings. Many kids tell me they “don’t feel homesick at all,” but there are some who struggle, especially during their first summer. Those kids seem to grow the most and feel the most pride in their accomplishment of staying at camp. If you are feeling worried about how your child will do at camp, know that you are giving your child a precious gift by allowing them this special time where they get to grow their wings.
Whether you’re a first-year parent or a seasoned GAC family, getting your camper and yourself ready for camp both physically and emotionally can be a daunting task…What’s a foam pad? Will my camper make friends? How do medications at camp work? What if my camper struggles to adjust to camp? Do I really need the Campanion app? What will I do with my free time when my camper is away from home? Bring your coffee or tea, your advice and your questions, and we’ll help each other get prepared for camp this summer!
Take a look at our April Kindness Calendar to spread kindness! Every day is a great day to show people around us that we care! You can download the printable version here.
Are you worried that your child will struggle adjusting to being away from you and away from home? Come discuss the discomfort some campers experience and how you can help your camper not only work through separation anxiety but end up confident and happy about future away-from-home adventures (like college).