How to Cure Homesickness

Helping your child manage her homesickness

How to Cure HomesicknessFeeling homesick is one of those nearly universal human experiences, right up there with having a crush and learning to ride a bike. But the good news is that with a few simple strategies, you can often dial down the intensity of homesickness from incoherent sobbing over the phone to a short-lived pang at lights-out. Here’s how you can help your child cope with those unsettling “I miss home” feelings, whether it’s a first sleepover or a week at summer camp.

heading off homesickness

“Nearly 70 percent of factors that predict homesickness can be addressed before the time away from home,” says Dr. Christopher Thurber, a clinical psychologist in Exeter, New Hampshire, who co-authored a 2007 Pediatrics report on homesickness. His top techniques: be positive about the exciting and fun things your child will be doing; help your child feel in control and involved in the decision to spend time away from home by doing something like packing her bag together; and familiarize your child with her new environment by looking at website pictures of the camp or talking about the traffic noises (or lack of) at her friend’s house.

If your child is off to camp, Mark Diamond, director of Camp Manitou in Ontario’s Muskoka region, suggests scheduling a visit from a camp director at your home well before camp to answer any questions and concerns you, or your child, may have.

When Torontonian Darlene Wierski-Derve’s son Ehren, 7, started sleeping over at his grandparents’ house occasionally at age four, he was anxious about the change in routine. “We talked about it and decided to pick out a “good dreams’ pillowcase. Then we put his favourite stuffed animal and blanket inside, and that’s what he uses as a pillow,” says Wierski. “It helps to know he can just slip his hand inside the pillow and feel comforted.”

feel-better strategies

“Conventional wisdom says that homesickness just goes away, but research shows that it often doesn’t,” says Dr. Thurber. “However, kids as young as six and seven are totally capable of learning effective coping strategies, and it’s important that you practice beforehand so your child has a repertoire of skills ready to go.” If your child feels anxious about being away from home, have him think about the good things about his time away from home, such as spending time with friends or trying something new.

Of course, it helps to have the other parents on board too. For example, Karen Dufault of Ignace, Ont., who has hosted many a first-time sleepover, finds that trying something novel (such as a cool sleeping fort that the kids make together) or something familiar (such as bedtime reading) are two tactics that can work well to stave off the homesick blues.

Bonnie Schiedel is an Ignace, Ont.-based freelance writer who favours chocolate to cure homesickness and whatever else ails you.

don’t do this!

What not to say

  • Don’t say “I’m going to miss you so much” or “I don’t know what I’m going to do without you!” even if it’s true. “Those are natural things to say and parents often think they have to say them to show their love,” notes camp director Mark Diamond. “But all you have to say is “I love you and I know you’re going to have a great time.”
  • Don’t tease by saying things like, “I sure hope I remember to feed the dog while you’re gone” or “Watch out for that mystery meat they serve!” While this kind of joking may be completely fine in everyday family life, it may end up triggering needless anxiety while your child is away from home.
  • Don’t make a pick-up deal, where you promise to come and get your child if he or she is homesick. “This is a normal thing for kids to ask, but the subtext of the deal is that “I don’t have confidence in you, and the only solution is for me to rescue you,” says Dr. Thurber. “A better response is, “Everyone misses something about home and you’re a normal kid to feel that way, but there are lots of things we can plan together to make you feel better while you’re away.”
  • Don’t send your child to camp with a contraband cell phone sewn into a teddy bear (this sounds apocryphal, but Dr. Thurber has heard about it from at least one camp director!).

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