How do I handle a homesick camper?

Smart Love - August 2006


The Piepers


Q: What should I do when my 10-year-old gets homesick and wants to come home from overnight camp? He said he wanted to go, he has friends there and it's only four weeks. But after one week, he is demanding to come home. He says he doesn't like his counselor, he can't stand the food and some of the kids are picking on him.

We have paid the money and can't get it back. I'm certainly not going to pay for day camp at home on top of the money we have paid for camp, so my son would have to hang around the house and I'm sure he would be totally bored in about a day. He is really insisting, though, and says that if we love him, we will come get him. We really have no idea how to handle this.

G.F., Wilmette

A: First, we suggest you focus on helping your son stay. Talk to the camp director and mention the problem between your son and the counselor and the fact that he is being picked on. Perhaps changing cabins would do the trick. Also, if it's allowed, send some familiar, favorite foods from home.

When you talk to your son, emphasize that if he comes home you won't be able to provide the kind of enjoyable activities available at camp and you are worried he will become bored and restless. Then, ask if he wouldn't be willing to give the camp at least one more week.

If your son remains convinced that camp is intolerable, let him come home. Unlike school, camp is optional and recreational. The money is spent whether he stays, and there is nothing to gain and much to lose by forcing him to remain. If you refuse to let him come home, he may feel you are indifferent to his feelings and become less likely to talk to you about issues he needs help with. He may also become less willing to try new things on the assumption that he will have no escape route if they don't work out.

By letting him come home, though, you show him that you are responsive to his suffering and make it more likely that he will try an overnight adventure or other new endeavors at a later date.

What advice can you offer for car trips with a baby?

Q: What is the best way to travel with an 8-month-old baby? We are going to be taking a driving trip and staying in different places every night. Our daughter is a good sleeper, but I have heard nightmare stories about kids who are up all night and keep their parents up when they have to drive the next day. I've also heard quite a few dreadful tales of car meltdowns. We would like to have a few tricks up our sleeves in advance. Thanks.

M.B., Chicago

A: Traveling with a baby can be enjoyable if you take into account the baby's age-appropriate needs. Try to do most of your driving at nap times. Leave plenty of time for her to get out of her car seat and be free to kick, sit or crawl. Have new toys for the difficult moments. Be prepared to sing a lot of songs and play a lot of peekaboo.

To help her sleep at night, bring her crib bumpers and favorite comfort toys so her crib will look familiar. Most important, don't put yourself on such an exhausting schedule that you can't give your baby the same quality of care she would get at home.

Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are co-authors of Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline that Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person and Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (for additional Smart Love resources visit


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