8 Ways for Middle Schoolers and Teens to Overcome Summer Camp Homesickness and Anxiety
Sleepaway summer camp is a great place to learn new skills, make friends, and flex your adventure muscles. But many young people have a hard time with homesickness and anxiety during time away at camp, especially if it’s their first time being away from home for a long period of time.
At Liz Morrison Therapy, we work with middle schoolers and teens to overcome anxiety so they can enjoy new life experiences. If you’re worried about summer camp homesickness, know that this is completely normal! Lots of kids get anxious when they’re away from home for extended amounts of time. And if this is true for you, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It also doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy summer camp. Here are 8 of our best tips for overcoming homesickness at camp.
How to Deal With Summer Camp Homesickness and Anxiety
1. Know it’s okay to be nervous
We guarantee that you aren’t going to be the only person who’s homesick and anxious at summer camp. The other kids there are going to be nervous about being away from home, too. Having tough feelings about being away from home is okay and normal. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or feel embarrassed about.
If you can accept that you’ll probably have feelings of anxiety and homesickness while you’re gone, it could make the transition to camp easier. You’ll know what to expect, and you’ll know that those feelings don’t mean anything is wrong. Don’t beat yourself up about being anxious or homesick, because that will only make you feel worse. Instead, remember there’s nothing wrong with having any of these feelings.
2. Reframe your worries
You don’t have control over the thoughts and worries that pop into your head. However, you do have control over which ones you pay attention to. Instead of believing every scary thing you brain tells you, you can actually give your thoughts a reality check as they come and go.
It’s easy to think that something must be wrong if you are feeling strong negative emotions about it. For example, you might think, “Camp is going to be awful, I can just feel it.” But it’s important to recognize that worries like these are just thoughts – they aren’t necessarily the truth. Just because you are worried about something doesn’t mean that worry will come true.
Challenge thoughts like these by trying this exercise:
Write down all your worries. For example, maybe you write down “I won’t make any friends at camp and everyone will make fun of me.”
See if you can reframe your worries. Do you really know this to be true? How can you know for sure? Have you ever made friends before? What makes this situation any different?
Rewrite this worry with a statement that’s more accurate. For example, “It might take me a few days to make friends because I’m shy. But after a while I’ll start getting to know the other kids and doing activities together. Eventually I’ll make at least one friend.”
The idea is to remind yourself that your thoughts don’t always tell the truth, and it’s important to challenge the unhelpful or stressful thoughts. It takes practice and effort to reframe these worries into something more accurate and helpful. But with time and patience, exercises like this can really help soothe your anxious mind.
3. Send snail-mail
Summer camp is a great place to write snail-mail letters to your family and friends. Pack envelopes, stamps, and paper for writing snail-mail letters back home. Ask your family to write you letters and send care packages, too.
Receiving daily hand-written letters from people you love is comforting and fun, and it reminds you of all the great people you have in your life. It’s also a great way for you to share about all the different experiences you’re having at camp.
4. Bring comforting reminders of home
Having physical reminders from home can give you a feeling of comfort and safety. You can bring things like fun stickers, a favorite stuffed animal, a journal, a favorite book, or a soft blanket. When you’re feeling homesick, you can use these visual reminders of home to help you relax. You can hug the blanket or the stuffed animal, write in your journal, or use the stickers to decorate snail mail letters back home.
5. Talk to the counselors
If you’re having a tough time adjusting to camp, talk to a counselor you trust. They’re there to make sure you feel comfortable and safe. They can work with you to figure out what you need and help make you less anxious and homesick.
There’s nothing wrong with being homesick. Camp counselors see it all the time, and they know how tough it is to adjust to a brand-new summer camp.
6. Get involved in camp activities
Camp homesickness sometimes fades after the first few days. Sometimes it comes and goes, and is stronger on some days than others.
Either way, one of the best ways to overcome homesickness is to get involved in camp activities. If you’re sitting on the sidelines and not participating, it’s easy to feel anxious and homesick. But when you join in on lots of group activities, you’ll probably start having fun. And when you have fun, your anxiety and homesickness will naturally ease a bit.
So even if it feels awkward or tough, challenge yourself to participate in camp activities as much as possible. You’ll probably start feeling better soon, and you may even start to have a really great time.
7. Talk to other kids
Making new friends at summer camp is one of the best ways to ease feelings of homesickness and anxiety.
Break the ice by asking other kids what it’s like for them back home. Talk about things you’re enjoying at camp, as well as things you miss at home. Most importantly, do fun things together at camp. Go swimming together or sit together during mealtimes.
It’s okay if you’re shy or it takes you longer to open up to other kids. Go at your own pace and know there’s no rush. And remember, they’re probably nervous about being away from home too.
8. Consider a day camp
If spending time at sleepaway camp is just not your thing, that’s perfectly okay. Sleepaway camp isn’t for everyone. You can always choose a camp that meets during the day and where you go home at night. Attending day camp doesn’t mean you can never go to a sleepaway camp. But it can be helpful to ease into summer camp life slowly, especially if this is your first summer spending time away from home.
You Can Help Your Kid Overcome Homesickness at Camp
If you’re a parent of a middle schooler or a teen who deals with summer camp homesickness and anxiety, you can help.
Summer camp is full of unknowns, which can make an anxious child’s mind race with fear. Before summer camp starts, work with them on how to learn to cope with the sress of the unknown. Teach them to connect to their breath and check in with their bodies and emotions. Listen to them and acknowledge their fears about attending summer camp, while also gently reminding them to imagine best-case scenarios instead of worst-case scenarios.
If you have any fun summer camp stories of your own, share those with your child. It may help them to hear about good experiences someone else has had, so they can imagine those same experiences happening to themselves.
Help your kid feel cared for by reminding them it’s okay and normal to be nervous. After all, being nervous doesn’t have to mean there’s anything wrong. Being nervous about new experiences is just a natural part of human life.
If your pre-teen or teen is struggling with anxiety and homesickness and you don’t know how else to help, consider therapy.
If you’d like to learn more about how therapy could help your kid, feel free to reach out to inquire about online counseling. We offer free consultations to discuss any questions or concerns you may have and see if we’re a good fit.