WASHINGTON, D.C.--With summer approaching, many children will have to deal with feeling homesick if part of their summer involves sleep-over camp, but parents can play a big role in helping their children overcome homesickness, say psychologists.
"Talking with children about a wide range of ways to cope with homesickness before camp starts is a first step," said psychologists Christopher Thurber, Ph.D., and John R. Weisz, Ph.D., of the University of California in Los Angeles. "Parents can try to help their children understand that feeling homesick is very natural and that physical activity and making new friends will help distract them from the sad and nervous emotions that are part of homesickness. Parents can also encourage their children not to give up in situations where they may feel overwhelmed and lonely, and offer suggestions of effective ways to cope."
"Before children go to overnight camps, they should practice shorter separations to learn which coping methods work for them," said Dr. Thurber. "Their parents can help them understand which aspects of the separation they can control (like letter writing, participation in activities) and which aspects they cannot control (like duration of the separation, routines of the new environment). The least homesick children are those who change what they can about the separation and adjust to what they can't, and that takes practice."
A profile of coping methods that children report are effective in dealing with homesickness is reported on in the May issue of the American Psychological Association's (APA) journal Developmental Psychology. According to this research, those children who engaged in distracting activities and sought social support from friends or counselors were less homesick than those who felt helpless about coping.
The authors asked 1,032 8-16 year-old boys and girls how they coped with feeling homesick while at a two-week sleep-over camp. They also asked the children how much they felt they could control their homesick feelings and what made them feel better.
"Doing something fun to forget about homesickness, thinking positively, changing feelings to be happy and reframing time were the most common ways that these boys and girls coped with their homesickness," said Dr. Thurber. "The girls sought social support from friends and counselors more often than the boys."
The older children were less homesick than the younger children, said the authors. "Older children have generally had more experience away from home, and therefore have had more practice coping. The fact that older children reported coping less frequently than younger children suggests that experience helps refine coping skills."
Article: "You Can Try or You Can Just Give Up: the Impact of Perceived Control and Coping Style on Childhood Homesickness" by Christopher A. Thurber, Ph.D., and John R. Weisz, Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles, in Developmental Psychology, Vol. 33, No. 3.
(Full text available from the APA Public Affairs Office.)Christopher Thurber, Ph.D., can be reached at (206) 526-2000x1439 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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