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Going, Going, Gone: Learning How to Leave This Summer

Going, Going, Gone:
Learning How to Leave This Summer

Why is it hard to leave home?
What can I do to prepare myself for camp or a long trip?
What can I do to feel less homesick once I'm already at camp?
What if I just can't stand it anymore?

Why is it hard to leave home?
You've been marking the days off on your calendar. Camp is just around the corner. For the last few months, you've been itching to get away from home (and your parents' constant nagging). But suddenly, every time you think about leaving them, you get butterflies in your stomach. What's going on?

You could be experiencing a case of homesickness.

Homesickness can occur not just when you're away from home, but when you're thinking about leaving. It's one of the most normal feelings in the world, especially if you're going away for the very first time. In fact, researchers say that about 95 percent of all kids miss something about home when they're away at camp. And guess what? Even adults get homesick.

For all of us, separating from our parents is a lifelong process. We begin learning about it the moment we are born. When we are babies, we don't want our mothers to leave us for even a second. When we are a little older, we can tolerate longer chunks of time by ourselves, but we may still react strongly when our parents go out for the evening or away for a weekend. Going away to camp (or on a long trip away from home) is yet another step toward separation and a sign that you're growing up. The goal of all this separating, of course, is for you to eventually live on your own as an adult.

Kids miss a lot of different things when they're away from home: parents and family, friends, pets, boyfriends or girlfriends, home cooking, junk food, television, the computer—maybe even a favorite chair. There is a bright side to homesickness: it probably means that you love your parents and that you're happy with many parts of your life. That's great. Being away at camp can help you appreciate some of these things. back to top

What can I do to prepare myself for camp or a long trip?
You can do a few things to prepare for your time away from home. One of the best is to practice being away. Spend a long weekend at a friend's house, stay with your grandparents for a few nights, or just go to a few sleepovers. Use these minitrips as dress rehearsal for camp. So, for instance, if your camp doesn't allow kids to call home (most camps have this policy), try hard not to call your parents. You could practice writing a letter to them instead.

It can also be helpful to think about what it means to be away for two, or even six, weeks. Two weeks is like winter break. That goes pretty fast, doesn't it? Or think of it this way: if you're 14 years old, then you've been alive for 728 weeks. Being away from home for two or six weeks is just a tiny slice of that.

Learning more information about your camp can also help. Most camps have brochures, videotapes, CD-ROMs, or Web sites that tell about the activities and schedules. Maybe you can even visit the camp with your parents. Find out when you'll be waking up in the morning. Find out how many kids will be in your cabin. (Sometimes, camps will send you a list of your cabin mates in the mail beforehand.) Find out about the activities that go on and the different choices you'll have. Ask about the food. The more you learn before you go, the more comfortable you will feel once you get there.

You may even want to practice walking around your yard or house at night with a flashlight. That may sound silly, but you'll be surprised how much it will get you in the mood for camp. Also, if you are worried about specific problems or situations, talk about them with your parent. The two of you can come up with some possible solutions ahead of time. That will make you feel more prepared.

When you're packing for camp, include something special from home—a photograph of your family, your favorite pillow, or anything else that gives you warm feelings about home. And, most important of all, think positively. Most camps are in the woods or on a lake, so you'll be surrounded by natural beauty. You will have the chance to try many new activities and meet all kinds of kids. Many adults say that their closest friends are the people they met at camp. back to top

What can I do to feel less homesick once I'm already at camp?
The first thing to remember is that everyone needs time to adjust to new situations. The camp schedule will be different from what you are used to at home. Your bed may not be as comfortable as your bed at home, the bathrooms may be a bit rustic, the food could be kind of starchy. You'll need time to take in these changes. But within a week or so, you'll probably be settled into your new routines. Remember that the first week of camp is probably when you'll feel most homesick.

Two psychologists interviewed hundreds of kids to find out what helps them with homesickness. Here are some of their suggestions:
  • Stay busy. Do something with one of your friends or go to an activity. If you're having fun, you probably won't be thinking about home.
  • Think of all the things that you can do at camp, but can't do at home. For instance, at camp you can sail, canoe, and do all kinds of arts and crafts. You get to swim in the lake and be with friends all day (and probably all night) long.
  • Do something to make you feel connected to home. For instance, you can write letters to family and friends, look at family photos, or share photos with another camper. If you have a Walkman, you can play your favorite music—songs that remind you of school and friends.
  • Remind yourself that camp doesn't last forever and that you'll be home before you know it (probably wishing you were back at camp again). School lasts about 39 weeks, so four weeks at camp is just a drop in the bucket.

    Talk with someone who can help you feel better. Chances are, other kids feel the same way you do. Try talking with some of the girls in your cabin. Or talk with your counselor or another member of the camp staff. A big part of their job is to make kids feel comfortable. They know that homesickness is normal and can help you think of ways to relieve those feelings. If there is a particular person you know you can always go to, that might help.
  • Remember that it can take time to make friends.
Here are some things that kids say don't help homesickness:
  • Sitting around and doing nothing. That will make you feel sorry for yourself. And the time will go by very s-l-o-w-l-y.
  • Giving up. Thinking that you're always going to feel homesick can really bring you down. You'll feel better about yourself if you keep a positive and hopeful attitude. back to top
What if I just can't stand it anymore?
The truth is, camp is not for everybody. And that's perfectly OK. Some people prefer to do other things during the summer. But if you're at camp already, don't make that decision too quickly. The first week may be a little rough, but then you may start feeling much better. That's what happens to most kids. On the other hand, if you're crying most of the time, if you are sad and lonely and anxious, if you're not eating or sleeping much—and this has been going on for a while—then maybe you, your parents, and the camp administrator should consider an early pick-up. It could be that you chose a camp that wasn't the best match for you. It could be that it's just not the right time for you to be at camp. Leaving camp is not a personal failure. In fact, if you made it through a week or more being so miserable, give yourself credit for sticking it out. You can always try again—or try another camp. Or you may want to get a job and be closer to home for the summer. You are entitled to make the choices that are best for you. back to top

Last Modified Date: 4/17/2001
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