It often starts with a phone call around bedtime. On the other end of the line is your little guy calling to say "hi," but the crack in his voice gives him away. When you softly ask if he’s OK, you’re greeted with tears and the accompanying, "Can you come get me?"
Homesickness can make classic childhood hallmarks, like slumber parties and overnight camp, much dreaded activities – when they should be anything but. So how can you help?
1. Start with the familiar.
If you suspect your son or daughter will be susceptible to homesickness, consider conducting a practice run at a family member’s home. Grandma and grandpa are familiar, and your child won’t have to worry about what they think if he or she needs to call home or even be picked up.
2. Pack a friend.
In the classic childhood story Ira Sleeps Over, Ira frets about whether to bring his Teddy bear to his friend’s for his first sleepover. He opts to leave his bear behind but later regrets it when he becomes homesick and notices that his buddy also sleeps with a stuffed friend. He goes home to retrieve his bear and sleeps soundly as a result. There’s wisdom in Ira’s ways. There’s nothing like a little piece of home to help when the pangs of homesickness strike. Encourage your child to pack a favorite stuffed animal, pillow or blanket and remind him to hold it close when he needs a reminder of home.
3. Give an adult the head’s up.
If you know your child is prone to homesickness, let the parents hosting the sleepover know, so they can be ready with a distraction (popcorn and a movie can go a long way), a hug or access to the phone. If your child is going away to camp, talk with the counselors ahead of time, so they can be on the lookout for signs of homesickness and provide your child with a little extra attention.
4. Encourage your child to call.
Technology has come a long a way, and phones have pervaded even the most rustic campgrounds. Chances are your child can access a phone through a camp counselor to call home if feeling blue. Often just hearing a parent’s voice and getting reassurance that mom and dad will in fact be there to pick him or her up in three days’ time can offer peace of mind.
5. Write often.
If your child is attending overnight camp or staying with grandma and grandpa while you’re away, consider sending a letter or email before she even leaves home, so there’s mail waiting on the day of her arrival. Plan to send a letter and/or email each day if you can and encourage other family members to do the same. These notes should not be about how much you miss your child but rather about encouraging her to try as many different activities as she can because you can’t wait to hear about her horseback riding adventure at camp or her canoe trip with grandpa.
6. As a last resort, pick your child up.
If your child can’t focus on anything but coming home, he or she may not be eating or sleeping. If he is simply inconsolable, he won’t benefit from forced play, and nor will his friends or fellow campers. In addition, his health may be at risk. Talk to the parent hosting the sleepover or camp director and assess whether you need to pick him up. Then congratulate your child on being brave enough for trying and remind him that there’s always next time.