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I could say that homesickness is not possible with our super brilliant free time and entertainment program and with the excellent events.
Or: "Home sickness? Not here!"

You can read or listen to these claims, or similar ones, but home sickness is a subject irrespective of how well prepared and how well organised the free time is. I have organised free time programs where 10% of the kids were epidemically „infected“with homesickness and other years it was not a subject.

What are possible reasons for homesickness?

  • Some children are away from home for the first time – the camp movements, shorter nights, and a totally different daily life in new surroundings with other children/youths who are strangers. This is too much for some kids. The yearning for familiar surroundings increases.

  • Parents can sometimes also have homesickness towards the children. A phone call, a parent’s visit to the camp and then the question from parents “are you enjoying yourself, do you want to come home?" – and some children take them up on the offer. Sometimes parents even say before the camp “if you get homesick, we’ll come and pick you up.

  • Arguments and small disagreements which do not take place publicly but are still felt, can lead to homesickness.

  • Homesickness is catching. When one child is homesick, it often leads to others suddenly becoming homesick. The idea is going home is then “born”. Factors which can lead danger of the homesick virus spreading are if the weather is a catastrophe, the food is bad, the program is boring and has too many gaps which the leader cannot fill.

What can be done to fight homesickness?

  • Take homesickness seriously

    The first step is to take homesickness seriously and to consider where the reasons can lie: The first time away from home? Hidden arguments? No friends? Contact with parents? Fears - the coming night time for example?

  • Avoid homesickness

    You can avoid homesickness by keeping your eyes and ears open for children who stand on the sidelines or separate themselves from the group, and try to integrate them into camp life and into the program without them noticing.

  • Wrong reaction!

    The wrong way to treat homesickness is to mother the kids, sit them on your knee, console them, dry their tears, cook them an extra sausage etc. Young and inexperienced members of staff, who also find the camp to be too much, often look for kids with homesickness, in a certain way to get away from their own problems. In doing this, the child’s homesickness is not reduced. The youth worker is not aware that the desire to go home becomes even stringer. The wrong way to help is also to give in to the children straight away.

  • Right reaction!

    The correct way to help is to take the child’s attention away from homesickness, to make sure that they are kept busy, do something with the child and take your time. However not so much that you do not have any more time for the other children, or give the feeling that the homesick kids are being treat differently – that would lead to problems in other areas. You need experience and intuition to deal with the problem in the right way. Let the child cry and try to think about way to get over the feeling of homesickness together with the child. Homesickness is normal; each and every child has the experience and has to deal with it sooner or later. If the child recognises that going home is not a solution and that the next free time and school/home time will come again, you have already won. This is also dependent upon intuition. If the child notices that he has managed to soften you up, he will not say it but deep inside he will accept any proposals from you. You should therefore avoid words such as “if need be…if nothing helps…we’ll see” as this shows that you are prepared to send the child home. Try out some other alternatives at first.

    • We showed a boy who was homesick after a visit from parents how to build a raft. He then showed the other children how to build it – the subject homesickness was not mentioned again. Years later he said that it was the correct decision not to send him home.

      Consider: what are the talents of the child and how can they experience a success.

    • Another example of this was when homesickness broke out for a 7 year old boy on the first evening before he had to go to bed. The problem could be solved using slightly unorthodox methods. The boy went to the older boy’s tent; he was named as deputy camp leader or “shadow”, night watch chief etc. The boy did not go home early and with a few tricks could even be talked into going to bed earlier and took over important tasks such as ringing the camp bell and getting washed. The other kids (of the same age) did not even notice that he had had homesickness.

  • Exceptions:

    If nothing works and the child is determined to go home, if all of the talking, advice and solutions aren’t even taken in, then a phone call to the parents is required. Even this has been the case but hopefully remains an exception to the rule.
    If at all possible, we tried to call the parents so that the other kids did not notice and tried to find out the parents opinion on homesickness. They would either pick the child up straight away or would try to talk them into staying. The second option is always the best solution. If anyone has a tip to help combat homesickness, they are welcome to send us their tips.

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