Children heading to summer camp may be less likely to experience severe homesickness if they know what camping entails and have read about strategies for reducing their sadness, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol. 73, No. 3).
In addition to reducing distress among the 6 million kids who attend overnight camp each year, homesickness-coping skills may even aid children later in life as they move away from home or go to college, says study author Christopher Thurber, PhD, a school psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
Thurber took a three-pronged approach to preventing homesickness among 75 first-time campers, all boys 7- to 16-years-old. To begin, he educated the boys about the daily activities, layout and appearance of the camp by mailing the campers an illustrated booklet three months in advance of camp. A second booklet, addressed to both the camper and parents, explained that most campers--up to 95 percent--experience some homesickness and provided strategies for reducing homesickness-related distress. For example, the booklet noted research findings that students who socialize and vigorously exercise reduce their feelings of sadness related to being away from home. The psychologist also taught camp counselors to identify and aid homesick children.
Once at camp, the participants completed the "Rate Your Day" survey, a measure of negative emotion and homesickness, on days two, four, six, nine, 11 and 13.
As compared with a similar group of first-time campers the previous summer, 22 percent fewer boys reported intense homesickness. Additionally, the homesickness-prepared campers reported more positive attitudes about camp.
Thurber credits the success of the program, in part, to the anxiety-reducing power of knowing what to expect--something that the previous summer's campers lacked.
"The human need to learn about the new environment [the children] were about to be immersed in was not being met," he says.
Parents can help meet that need by going through camp brochures with their children, discussing homesickness and even making a preliminary visit to the camp grounds, says Thurber.