Writing About Homesickness

How Do I Write Back to My Child About Homesickness?

This article (adapted for Camp Wayne purposes) originally appeared in “The Summer Camp Handbook” by Christopher Thurber, PhD. For more great tips, visit Christopher’s website at www.campspirit.com or to purchase the book on Amazon.com click here.

Every parent dreads receiving the classic Homesick-at-Camp letter. How do you respond?

Let’s take a look at some sample homesick letters.

Dear Mom and Dad,
Camp is terriabl. I am homesick almost every minnut. I tried evrything, and nothing works. I need to come home rite now! Please, please, please come and get me today!

Love, Chuck

Or, what about this one…

Dear Mom and Dad,
This camp stinks! The cownsillers are all mean and so are the kids. All I want to do is come home. If you don’t come pick me up, I’m going to run away. I swayr. I hate this place!

Your son, Brandon

You should promptly write a letter back to your child about his homesickness. However, it’s not easy to write these sorts of letters. Just like every other letter you write to your child at camp, you want this one to be newsy, upbeat, and encouraging. To this recipe, you must now add emphatic statements – words that show you understand how he feels. Once your child knows that you truly understand how upset he feels, he’ll start to feel better.

Here’s a sample response to the homesick letter.

Dear Chuck,
I got your letter today about how homesick you’ve been feeling. I could tell, just by reading the letter, how much those homesick feelings bother you. I remember we talked about homesick feelings being normal, but I guess didn’t expect them to be so strong. It took a lot of courage to write that letter and tell me how bad you’ve been feeling. Thanks for letter me know.

Remember when we decided together that you wanted to go to camp? One of things we talked about was how long you were going to stay, and we agreed on two weeks. That must seem like a really long time right now. But, by the time you get this letter, there will only be one week left of camp. Imagine, you’ve made is half way! That’s a lot. You must be proud to have made it that far.

Maybe you’re not so homesick anymore. I won’t know for sure until I get your next letter. If you still are, remember all the things you can think and do to help make things better. Stay busy, write a lot of letters, talk to your cabin leader, and look on the bright side. There are lots of fun things to do at camp that you can’t do at home. And before you know it, you’ll be home. Seven more days is not that much. I know you can do it!

Rover says “hi.” When you come home next week, we can take him out for a long walk in the park. He’ll like that. The park has a baseball diamond, too, so you can show me how good your batting has gotten since you’ve been at camp.

Daddy and I miss you and love you. We’ll be there to pick you up on Saturday morning, at the end of the session, just like we planned. Write again soon, sweetheart.

Love, Mom

P.S. Here are some pictures from last weekend. Daddy and I went up to Yilfer to visit his old friend Tommy G. Pretty flowers, huh?

This letter is a healthy response because mom stays positive and makes Chuck feel understood. She normalizes homesickness, but acknowledges that Chuck’s feelings are unexpectedly strong. Mom also encourages Chuck and reminds him that they decided together how long he would be at camp. More importantly, mom helps Chuck cope with his homesick feelings by reframing time and reminding him of the things that work best during practice separations before camp started. For now, Mom is also sticking to the original plan to come to camp on the regularly-scheduled pick up day – a smart move since kids’ moods can change quickly at camp. Enclosing some photos with the letter is a loving finishing touch.

When children write extremely homesick letters like the samples above, they often include a request to be picked up. What’s the message there? On the surface, the message is: “I am (or was) homesick.” Underneath, the message is, “I’ve lost confidence in myself.” The severely homesick child is like a mountain climber who gets tired halfway up the mountain. The summit looks far away, and suddenly, the climber doesn’t think he can make it. He has lost confidence. It’s going to take someone else’s empathy and encouragement for him to regain his confidence and climb the rest of the way to the top of the mountain. As a parent, you need to be that someone for your homesick child. Instill as much confidence as you can.

When children make it through a bout of homesickness and complete their planned stay at camp, they feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment.