May 5, 2016

Homesick AND Happy

Now is the moment of the great Canadian camp jitters. Kids who’ve signed up for camp for the first time are having their oh no, this is REAL moment. Their stomachs plummet like an elevator in free-fall, as the warm weather and the deluge of camp emails make the reality of camp sink in.

Some first-time campers are 100% fine in May.

Most have some worries. Kids’ most common fear is that they’ll be homesick and the feelings of sadness will be unmanageable for them.

The smartest guy I know about homesickness is Dr. Michael Thompson, psychologist and author (Homesick and Happy, Speaking of Boys), who was recently in Toronto talking about homesickness at camp.

Mike told us that in the last 20 years American parents with college education have doubled the amount of time they spend with their children. This does not necessarily add value for the children, although it seems to please us as parents. As a generation of parents we go to every soccer game. We, the parents, are not so great at separating from our kids.

The magic of camp, he says, is the separation of the child from their parents – in a community of safety and support. There is nothing more powerful for an 11 year old to have a 19 year old counsellor who really cares about them. In the absence of their parents, and the presence of other caring adults who spurt them through appropriate challenges, kids grow confidence.

Parents are always asking Mike how to make their child confident. Would that we could accomplish that! Parents have a belief that they can support their child at every moment and every stage. They forget that being a kid is painful sometimes, because kids have so little power. There are lots of hard things about being a child. There is no such thing as the perfectly self confident child. They feel small. They ARE small, says Mike. Kids have to master challenges. Self confidence comes only from succeeding at things they try.

Mike reminded us that 30 years ago 80% of children rode their bike or walked to school. That’s down to 13% today. In the US every year 5 children A WEEK are killed in a car with their parent driving. 115 children a year are snatched by strangers… We can’t keep our children perfectly safe. But we don’t parent based on statistics. The paradox is that the more control parents have, the more anxious it makes them.

He said: “You cannot GIVE your child independence. As a parent, ultimately you have to open the door, swing it open and let your child go. This is a hard moment for parents.” When he interviewed kids for Homesick and Happy, kids told him that one of the best thing about their camp friends is that their moms don’t know their camp friends’ moms. They like that because it makes the friendship their own.

When he was interviewing parents and researchers for Homesick and Happy he found out that homesickness is universal and normal – How could you not miss your parents and your beloved home? 80% of campers get over it easily and quickly.

Of those who don’t get over it easily, many of them told Mike they had to go back to camp cause they had to beat it. Parents can’t do that for kids. They have to do it themselves. Kids have to get away from their parents in order to become independent. Mike’s own son was in the very small percentage of kids who felt homesick some part of every day his first summer at camp.

And then he chose to go back for a second summer. Mike was astonished at his son’s desire to repeat the difficulty and asked why. His son answered: “Dad, if I can’t go to summer camp, I’ll never be able to sleep away from home the rest of my life.”

And he did. And he mastered the challenge. And you can imagine the uptick his confidence took as a result of the homesickness challenge met and mastered.

Click HERE to find out where to get your own copy of Homesick and Happy.

The paradox is that the more control parents have, the more anxious it makes them.

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