Did he come home from camp because of homesickness -- or is it something else?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  August 3, 2009 06:00 AM

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Sending a child off to camp, who doesn't worry that he or she might get homesick?

Barbara, My 10 yr old grandson was picked up from sleep-over camp because of constant crying and anxiety. He missed his parents. He is still very anxious, has bad dreams and nausea and panic attacks.

Will it subside?

He was away for nine days and home only one day.

Sandy, Chicago

Sandy, In order to give you a direct yes or no answer, I’d need a lot more information. For instance:

How did he feel about going to camp beforehand? Was he anticipating it with pleasure or with dread? Was going to camp his choice or was it foisted upon him? Prior to camp, what was his experience being away from home? Did he enjoy sleeping at friends’ or was that something he avoided? In general, what is his history of separation -- was separating ever/sometimes/often a source of difficulty for him? In preschool? With babysitters? How would you characterize his over-all temperament? Is he someone who makes friends easily or does he tend to be withdrawn and shy? Flexible or difficult? Is he an anxious child in general?

When I emailed your question to camp psychologist Christopher Thurber, author of “Summer Camp Handbook,” he wrote back, “My best guess … is that this boy had some pre-existing anxiety disorder. But that's just a guess. I also wonder whether something happened at camp (e.g., some kind of trauma). Doesn't sound like homesickness to me. There's more there.”

Thurber and I are on the same page with this and you probably can sense where we’re going: If your grandson was generally previously a happy kid who was looking forward to camp and who had successfully been away from home before, it’s fair to wonder if something happened at camp to upset him. If so, it would be best if he could talk about it.

I hope you can use the questions I posed above to guide you. You may need a professional to help sort all this out.

Here's what Thurber says: "My advise on the next step is to for the parents to bring their child to his pediatrician. He or she can do an initial evaluation and make a referral to a board-certified, licensed clinical psychologist. That's how I would handle things if it were my own child.

"Following up with the camp depends on what the pediatrician and/or psychologist conclude in their evaluations. One important first step would be asking the camp director and the child's counselor what they noticed about the child's functioning at camp. (I was assuming they did this already, but maybe not.)"

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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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