Summer sleepaway camp is a time-honored tradition for many families. It’s
a chance for children to experience new things and make new friends, while
also helping them establish some independence as they spend time away
from family and home. But it isn’t always campfires and canoe rides—sometimes
the separation can be tough for kids, says Venessa Gutierrez, MD, a pediatrician with St. Joseph Heritage Medical Groupin Santa Ana.
“It can be normal for a child to experience some nervousness or anxiety
at the prospect of spending a prolonged period of time away from home,
especially if it’s his or her first time at a sleepaway camp, if
it’s in an unfamiliar setting or your child won’t know anyone
there,” Dr. Gutierrez says. “A study published in
Pediatrics says 12 million kids attend sleepaway camp each year, and that research
shows 90 percent of them have a bout of homesickness at some point. But
there are things families can do to ease any fears and make camp an enjoyable,
Parents can prevent any possible homesickness well before dropping their
child off at camp.
“Parents should do their research when deciding on a camp,”
Dr. Gutierrez says. “That can encompass everything from location
to activities to camper/staff ratios. And children should be an integral
part of the camp selection process. Having your children involved in the
decision-making process will give them a fuller picture of what to expect
at camp and gives them a sense of ownership.”
In the days and weeks leading up to camp, parents should talk about homesickness
with their child, but with a positive spin.
“It’s OK to acknowledge you will miss your child and he will
miss you, too,” Dr. Gutierrez says. “But be sure to also have
a positive outlook—talk about camp and the fun your child can look
forward to or the goals he can set, such as meeting a certain number of
new people. If your child has fears, listen to him, and perhaps share
a story of a time when you were homesick as a child, and how you worked
through it. If your child hasn’t been away from home, plan a sleepover
at a relative’s or friend’s house as a dry run for camp.”
Parents can also make reinforce the idea that camp is a special experience.
“Take your child shopping for a new outfit for camp or let him pack
a favorite stuffed animal,” Dr. Gutierrez says. “And don’t
forget that writing letters and sending care packages is not only fun
for your child, but also provides a reassuring line of connection; check
with the camp in advance on policies for letters and packages, and pack
letter-writing supplies for your child.”
If you have any butterflies about sending your child away to camp, don’t
talk about them with your child.
“If you’re anxious, your child is more likely to be anxious,
too. Parents can share their concerns with a spouse or friend,”
Dr. Gutierrez says. “But parents should realize that if they’ve
done thorough research on the camp, they are leaving their child in good
Parents should also keep their goodbyes short and sweet on departure day;
dragging it out can breed nervousness for you and your child, Dr. Gutierrez
adds. Parents should also stay positive in letters to their child, focusing
on camp activities instead of making it all about how much you miss him.
And finally, parents should not make arrangements with their child to
pick them up early from camp if he is homesick—it can instill a
lack of confidence in the child and keep him from fully participating
in the camp experience.
“If, despite your preparations, your child’s anxiety is extreme
leading up to camp—there’s lots of crying or physical symptoms
such as a sick stomach or headache—you may want to talk with your
pediatrician about whether your child is ready for sleepaway camp,”
Dr. Gutierrez says. “But in many cases, positive support can override
homesickness and that will allow your child to reap all the benefits of
For more information about St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group, please click
here. For more information about Dr. Gutierrez, please click
When It’s Time to Change: Talking to Your Children About Puberty
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.