Understanding, preventing and treating homesickness ought to be approached like administering first aid for any other illness or injury. Homesickness is not imaginary, it’s not an indication of weakness or lack of character, it’s not a symptom of bad parenting or bad leadership and, thankfully, it’s reasonably easy to prevent.
Scout leaders and parents of Scouts should consider following a homesickness prevention plan well before the Scouts are headed to camp:
Scout Leaders Role
- Make discussion of summer camp a regular feature of unit meetings leading up to your stay at camp. Talk about the program, the accommodations, games, events and the daily routine to help Scouts familiarize themselves with the experience. Share pictures, patches and awards from past camps. (This is something best done by Scouts who have been to camp before.)
- If possible arrange to have a camp staff member visit a unit meeting and talk to Scouts about camp. See if you can arrange to have them welcome your Scouts when they arrive at camp.
- Work with parents to establish a contact plan. Most experts agree that real-time contacts like phone calls, texting and email can complicate rather than alleviate homesickness for stays away from home that are less than several weeks long. Letter writing is a much better alternative, it requires reflection and these reflections often aid alleviating anxiety.
- Make the stay at camp visible, mark it on the calendar, post it on the fridge. Show your Scout how long he will be away and discuss any anxiety he may have about this.
- Provide your Scout with pre-stamped, pre-addressed envelopes, paper and or postcards, have them practice writing and sending a letter at home.
- Include a few ‘transitional objects’ or mementos in your Scouts gear for camp. These may be family pictures, a stuffed animal or any object that evokes a feeling of home. Explain that these are symbols that his family is safe and well, that they look forward to hearing from them when camp is over.
- Make sure your Scout understands the contact plan and pledge to abide by it.
- Discuss how camp will be a great opportunity to strengthen their growing independence and ability to look after themselves.
It’s perfectly understandable that parents will be anxious about any extended separation from their Scout. Discuss that homesickness it is a natural reaction some people have to being away from familiar surroundings. Express confidence that your Scout will be able to cope should they feel homesick and share these specific coping strategies with them:
- Talk to your friends and Scout leaders, don’t feel like you are alone in feeling the way you do and don’t be ashamed to say how you feel.
- Keep busy, have fun and participate in the camp program.
- Write a letter home to let us know what you are doing.
There are also ways that parents can make homesickness more likely:
- Indicating their own anxiety with the pending separation. Saying things like “I’ll really miss you” or “We won’t know what to do without you” can unwittingly undermine your Scout’s ability to cope.
- By no means should you discuss a ‘rescue plan” – ‘If you don’t like it we’ll come pick you up’ sets a negative expectation that is difficult to overcome.
Parents and Scout leaders should also think through a parent’s response should a Scout manage to contact home via phone -” We agreed before you left how we’d be in contact. If this is an emergency go to your Scout leader or another responsible adult. I will contact the camp later today to check in with your Scout leader, it’s time for me to go now.”
It’s almost always a mistake for a parent to insist on talking to a homesick Scout or that a Scout have a cell phone at camp, this often accentuates the anxiety for everyone involved. If a parent insists on checking in they should discuss precisely how this will happen and talk only to the adult leaders.
Treating homesickness at camp, should it occur, requires patience, caring and kindness. Being dismissive or abrupt with homesick Scouts is not going to help them. Listen to what they have to say and help them cope:
- Stay engaged and busy, do something fun.
- Write a letter home.
- Talk to your friends, don’t be ashamed, we have all felt this way before.
While homesickness is common a good prevention plan can make it less powerful. By familiarizing Scouts with the camp experience, building transitions between home and camp, and establishing a contact plan you’ll prevent the most common causes of homesick Scouts