6 Ways To Help A Child Who Is Homesick Without Coddling Them

A psychologist shares six simple ways to reassure, empower and prepare your child for a big adventure.

Young girl smiling holding a frog, reducing homesick anxiety at camp keiichihiki, IPGGutenbergUKLtd | Canva

When your child goes away to camp, sleepovers at a friend's house, or away from home for a day, they may find themselves feeling homesick or experiencing separation anxiety. When this happens, you likely feel a bit sick, too!

Being away from home can be a powerful learning opportunity for kids to explore activities and situations a home environment can’t provide. In addition to fostering independence and social skills that only develop when kids are on their own.


So impactful is time away from home to kids’ overall development that Michael Thompson, Ph.D. in his bestselling book, Homesick and Happy, argues few childhood experiences are more developmentally advantageous. Part of what makes camp, sleepovers, and other adventures rewarding is also what makes it hard. 

Six ways to help child who is homesick — without coddling them

1. Accept that healthy distance is good for kids, when developmentally appropriate

Working through feeling homesick — and the normal anxiety of being away from home — can be tough, but Thompson believes it is one the most important and common developmental milestones kids can face in growing independence.


I couldn’t agree more. While compiling needed supplies, procuring and labeling clothes, and preparing for travel, it can be hard to think in advance about your child’s attitude about being away, much less find the time to discuss it with them or even know how.

Dealing with anxiety in children can challenge your parenting skills. Being prepared can help you feel strong enough to provide consistent support.

Knowing how to handle the separation can be harder than it might seem for both of you, despite how prepared you thought you were for your child's homesickness. Yet, as parents, our role is not to protect our children from the anxiety of being away from home or convince them to shut it out. Rather, our job in learning how to reduce anxiety in children is to notice their distress as quickly as possible, work with them to name it and help them cope. Accepting that this will be a challenge, but a healthy one, can prepare you for reality. 

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2. Leave a note for your child to read the first night or as early as possible

Often, the first night and first few days away from home are the hardest and loneliest for kids. The fatigue of getting to and settled, mixed with all the newness can tempt kids to feel overwhelmed and miss home even if they are enjoying themselves.

A personal message from you can be a real comfort, especially when it reminds them it is OK to miss home and have fun — that’s part of being away from home — and being on their own will get easier in the coming days.

3. Aim to message your child often to alleviate separation anxiety 

Try to do so every day, in the beginning, even if it is just a short e-mail or text. Load sharing refers to the sharing of stress across a close relationship. By frequently communicating with your child, you help share their load and encourage your child to know he can handle the adventure of being away from home. Knowing you are thinking about them as much as they are thinking of you (or more!) can help them feel the embrace of home through the rhythm of written communication.


I love the email feature some large summer camps offer because I can copy and paste many elements of the letters I write to each child. I have also dictated and printed notes to them to quickly mail, so it is much faster than handwriting.

Of course, sometimes I goof and miss a day or send the wrong letter to the wrong child, and luckily, we all have a good laugh over it. Witnessing my mistakes allows them to be more accepting of themselves, including their uncomfortable feelings.

4. Highlight encouragement about being away from home

Tell them how proud you are of them, how excited you are for them to have fun new adventures, and how interested you are in hearing about what they are learning and doing. More important than simply shaping what you want them to write about in their messages to you, you are encouraging them to focus on the positive aspects of being away from home. This is a key strategy for dealing effectively with homesickness.


5. Downplay fun at home

Try not to focus too much on the parts of the home you know your child might miss. Focus, instead, on the things your child generally isn’t fond of. For example, "Things are pretty quiet here. Dad and I are getting some projects done around the house and catching up on chores" rather than "Dad and I had a lot of fun last weekend with the Smiths on the boat. The usual gang was there and asked all about you. Wish you could have been with us!!" Instead of talking about how much fun you may be having, ask them about what fun they are having.

Mom high fives child so they feel less homesick Yuganov Konstantin via Shutterstock

6. Share your feelings positively

Especially if you are feeling any of the same positive feelings your child might have, share them. When I have had opportunities to be courageous in trying something new while my kids are away, I always try to share it with them as a way of modeling how good it feels to use anxiety to solve challenges they might also be facing.


When it comes to your feelings about them, likewise keep them positive. Of course, tell them you love them, but avoid telling them you miss them, or that it was hard for you to say goodbye, etc.

Worrying about your feelings can compound any anxiety or distress they might be feeling, and is generally ill-advised. Instead, encourage them to make the most of their time away from home, and remind them how fast the time will fly by.

6. If you get a homesick letter, take a deep breath and consider getting more information

Assuming you get a letter written several days ago, rather than an urgent phone call from the adult in charge, consider the possibility things are considerably better than they were when your child wrote their plea to come home.

At least check the facts before you get too far down the path of troubleshooting how to get her home. A call can give you an objective assessment of how your child is doing and can help you know how to best respond.


By building off an intention to understand your child’s experiences, rather than judge or change them, the support you give will be enough for your child to hold themselves up as they face being away from home on their own.

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7. Expect to worry, and possibly doubt yourself, if your child is actively homesick

Any reasonable parent would worry, and possibly doubt their months-long decision to send a child to camp, or a sleepover when they hear first-hand their child’s misery and suffering. Understanding your child’s pain and wanting to stop it is part of what makes you a responsive, loving parent. But, making room for your child to work through this challenge and take care of themselves is also part of being a great parent.


It is possible your child being unhappy is part of you doing the right thing — allowing them the opportunity to cultivate courage in coping with their feelings about facing something new and being away from home. Trusting our instincts — and our worry — can become a well-tuned resource for navigating the ever-shifting demands of parenting.

8. Respond to your child’s request to come home carefully

Many camps, and other parents, offer fantastic advice and resources on how to help your child cope with homesickness, and especially requests to come home.

One of my favorites is from Rockbrook Camp for Girls on how to respond to a homesick child’s letter. I don’t think I could have penned a more perfect letter myself, and reading another parent’s correspondence can help you create your response should you need to.


There are circumstances where homesickness can be serious enough to warrant coming home, especially if there are extenuating family circumstances or serious emotional challenges that can make staying away from home too hard.

@allroundchampiontv Replying to @Bestie forever🇵🇷 Part 2! We are so happy Emmanuel stayed! 💜 #allroundchampion #byutv #familyfirst #homesick #kidathlete ♬ original sound - All-Round Champion | BYUtv

But, if after getting the facts and knowing your child, you think they can handle feeling homesick, research shows they’ll be better off sticking it out at camp, with the help of your support and encouragement from home.

A rite of passage in growing up and leaving home, coping with feeling homesick isn’t easy for kids and isn’t easy for parents either. Allowing kids the opportunity to cultivate independence takes guts as a parent, and requires guts in our kids too.


Our support and encouragement not only help kids learn they can cope with the anxiety of being away from home but teach an even more valuable truth: that we believe in them.

RELATED: If You Notice These 3 Behaviors, Your Child Might Have Anxiety

Dr. Alicia Clark has been a practicing psychologist for over 25 years and has been named one of Washington’s Top Doctors by Washingtonian Magazine. She is the author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You In Life, Love, and All That You Do.

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