Summer is associated with many activities, and one of the most popular of those activities is going away to camp. If we don’t have a child ourselves who is going away to camp this summer, we most likely know someone who does. And we can certainly think back to those exciting times when we were kids going off to camp. As exciting as the feelings of going to camp are, there are times when just the opposite feelings arise and the child experiences homesickness.
I spoke with three different parents this week who were dealing with homesick children away at camp. As I reflected on the many other conversations I had with people this past week, it became clear to me that kids aren’t the only ones who sometimes struggle with being homesick. Adults get homesick, too–they just don’t talk about it very much. In fact, whenever we are negotiating a significant change in life, whether we are 12, 42 or 72, we will find ourselves longing for the comfort of what was, of that which we have left behind. Home is the people and the routines that are familiar to us at any given time in our lives. When we grow or move away from those familiar people and routines, we feel both excited and sad.
One of the reasons we remember our camp experiences so vividly is that they were powerful examples of our first attempts to move out of the “comfort zone” of our family. Going to camp placed us in the “growth zone” and we were justifiably proud to be able to negotiate this transition. We suddenly felt older and more mature when we returned home. We were not the same child who had left home just a week or two earlier.
I looked up several resources on how to help a child who is homesick. The most common advice I found is to first acknowledge with the child that it is normal to feel homesick, and then to keep the child’s attention focussed on the present moment, on the fun they are having at camp. That’s great advice for a camper. Honor the sadness, but don’t dwell on it. Immerse yourself in the present moment and all that it has to offer you. Another good piece of advice was to send something from home along with the child to camp, like a stuffed animal or a picture, to remind them that even though they were in a new and different place, they could bring part of home with them.
We adults can learn something from this advice as well, whenever we find ourselves longing for the “home” of some previous time in our lives. We will do well at those times to honor the feelings of sadness and loss that we are experiencing. We will also do well to immerse ourselves in the present moment, to uncover all the possibilities that it holds for us. We have a saying around here at the Samaritan Family Wellness Center: Change is inevitable, Growth is optional. Here’s hoping that all of our transitions right now, whether we are children or adults, can become life-giving and life-changing experiences of growth.