How to help Scouts avoid homesickness at summer camp


Homesickness at summer camp is a common ailment, but parents and leaders can help Scouts win the battle, become more independent and have lots of fun.

Tyler is down in the dumps. His stomach hurts, and he’s on the verge of tears. This is his first year to attend summer camp, and now on the second day, all he can think about is heading home.

Tyler isn’t used to the sounds of nature at night, he’s missing vital episodes of his favorite Nickelodeon show, and he’s afraid his friends will call him a wuss if they find out he’s homesick. Tyler misses his home, his bed — and his parents.

Finally, Tyler calls his mom and dad on the Scoutmaster’s cell phone and convinces them to come pick him up. With a mixture of shame and relief, he leaves camp.

Next year’s camp? Forget it.

Ninety-five percent of children between the ages of 8 and 16 who attend a resident camp report some feelings of homesickness on at least one day, says Christopher Thurber, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who studies homesickness.

Twenty percent of those children report moderate-to-severe feelings of homesickness, and 7 percent experience intense homesickness associated with significant symptoms of depression and anxiety.

With more than 400,000 Scouts attending a long-term camp across the nation, that’s a lot of homesickness.

Thankfully, though, there are solutions that will help even the most homesick Scout become a confident camper.

Recognize the signs

Pinpointing which Scouts are the most likely to get homesick will alert you to signs of problems during camp.

It seems almost too simple to be true, but merely asking Scouts to rate how homesick they expect to be (on a scale of one to 10) is a reliable way to predict homesickness.

“They’ll come within a point or two of where they’ll end up being,” says Thurber.

Some Scoutmasters may think asking Scouts to rate their probability of homesickness will create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not so.

“You might worry about creating homesickness, but you’re not creating anything that wasn’t there before,” says Thurber. “The sooner you identify it, the better.”

Another predictor of homesickness is if a Scout has little experience away from home: If he or she rarely goes on overnight trips without their family, they may have trouble adjusting at camp.

A third tip-off: Is the camp culturally different from the Scout’s home life? For example, if he or she lives in the city, they’re used to hearing cars whoosh by at night — not to hearing crickets and raccoons (or was that a bear?). A kid who is used to sleeping in during the summer and playing Xbox all day may have trouble adjusting to scheduled activities and early morning wake-up calls.

Prepare them for camp

The best way to help kids who show signs of being homesick-prone — and even those who don’t — is to prepare them for the camp experience before trekking into the wilderness. First, Thurber recommends that parents encourage trial separations from home, such as sleepovers at friends’ houses or overnight trips to grandma’s.

Next, leaders should familiarize their Scouts with the camping experience before leaving home to help reduce culture shock.

“Drill down minute by minute,” suggests Michael Lanning, a California estate-planning lawyer and Scoutmaster of 54 years.

“For example, tell them that they’ll get up at 7 a.m., and clean their tent, then they’ll go to breakfast. Let them know when they are scheduled to go to the handicraft area and make a souvenir. And don’t forget to mention the fun they’ll have with skits and songs at the evening campfire.”

In addition, if your Scouts haven’t been physically active and will be hiking several miles every day, get them used to wearing boots and packs before camp.

“You have to take practice hikes,” says Lanning. “Tell the Scouts to break in their boots by wearing them to school. Plan short Saturday jaunts, where they walk uphill for half an hour and then back wearing their packs.”

Playing up what the Scouts can expect at camp can help head off homesickness, says Thurber. Sell your Scouts on going to camp the way you’d sell an adult on a vacation destination. Hand out your local Scout council’s camp brochures that show photographs and list camp activities.

“Scout camps schedule free-time activities that can lessen thoughts of homesickness,” says Lanning. These activities include shooting at the archery ranges, swimming, and canoeing.

“There’s always an exploration or hike the Scouts can join. Handicrafts are terrific for homesick Scouts because they can focus on what they are making,” Lanning adds.

Other strategies for coping with homesickness include talking to an adult leader, keeping a journal of fun camp experiences, bringing self-addressed, stamped envelopes from home to write letters to mom and dad, and marking off days on a calendar to show how fast the days at camp are going.

Parents need as much prepping about camp as their children. Set up a parents meeting a few weeks before camp and explain to them your expectations and how they can help their kids minimize homesickness.

Coach your Scouts’ parents to avoid saying things like, “I don’t know what I’ll do without you,” “I hope I remember to feed your dog,” and “I remember my first camp experience — we ate mystery meat!”

“Tell parents to share the positive things they did at camp as a child,” says Thurber. Did they participate in a skit that had the other Scouts rolling in the aisles? Did they get to lead a song at one of the campfires? Did their troop win the camp-wide scavenger hunt?

Set up a no-call policy

The cell phone is a great invention — except when homesick Scouts use it to stay in contact with their parents.

“Calling home is not a treatment for homesickness,” says Thurber. “Five percent of the phone calls have no effect, and the rest have a deleterious effect.”

Assure parents during the pre-camp meeting that their son may experience some anxiety or sadness, but that he’ll have the support of trusted adults and older Scouts at camp.

“Tell parents you won’t allow their sons to call home,” says Lanning. “Remind them that camp is filled with fun activities, the food isn’t bad, and the boys are not being made to do hard labor.” Reassuring the parents helps them understand and comply with the no-calls rule.

The same goes for pickup deals, like the one Tyler’s parents made at the beginning of this article. This may seem like the best way to assuage a Scout’s homesickness — and relieve mom and dad of guilt feelings — but in reality, making pickup deals can backfire.

The parents think they’re helping, but what the Scout hears is this: “I have so little confidence in your ability to cope with feelings of homesickness that the only solution is for me to come and get you.”

Instead, during your pre-camp meeting, coach parents to tell their child that although they are sure there will be things he’ll miss about home, the practice separations at grandma’s house and information from his Scoutmaster will help him kick homesickness.

Tell parents not to offer to pick up their son if he’s feeling homesick, and reassure them again that trusted adults are ready and willing to help their son over the homesickness hump.

Show your support

Homesick kids need support from older Scouts, the Scoutmaster, and other adult leaders. Thurber and Lanning recommend that homesick Scouts try to make new friends during their free-time activities with Scouts from other troops.

Thurber says Scouts may be embarrassed to approach the Scoutmaster or other adult leaders about being homesick. That’s why it is important that your Scouts know homesickness is common and that they can come to you if they’re having trouble adjusting to camp. In addition, Thurber recommends that adults check in with each Scout at least once a day during camp.

“All it takes is a minute of one-on-one conversation to make an individual camper feel important,” Thurber says. “You don’t have to be a psychologist, you just have to be a sensitive, caring adult.”

Lanning recommends a straightforward approach regarding a Scout’s homesickness. “Sometimes I’m very direct — I say, ‘How’s it going?’”

Even better, have a senior patrol leader boost a Scout’s confidence by relaying his own experiences with camp.

“He can tell a Scout that he remembers being homesick at camp — but that he got through it and knows the Scout will, too,” says Thurber.

All this may sound like a lot of work to cure homesickness, but the effort will pay off.

“If you find yourself second-guessing the impact of homesickness,” says Thurber, “remind yourself that by helping Scouts have a good time at camp, it will lengthen their tenure in your troop.


  1. I recall reading this article in the May-June 2008 Scouting Magazine. This article is another rason for having a no cell phone/electronic policy in Scouting units.
    Holding a yearly information parents night will not only keep make parents aware of the units plans & activities leading up to Summer Camp, but also the policy on personal items their sons will not bring to camp.

    • I was ASM for Troops summer camp stays 2 years and numerous overnights. This article would have been a tremendous help to Scouts and Parents..Kudos for the post

  2. Bernie’s mom was a “helicopter” mom. Our Rocky Mountain Council camp in the 1960’s invited parents to come to the Wednesday night campfire. . Bernie and his buddy Ben was overdue from a short hike prior to lunch time to the point that I was kind of worried. Late afternoon found Bernie and Ben wandering in without a care in the world. After chastizing them, I determined they were OK, I told Bernie to NOT mention the incident to his mom if he wanted to stay in camp to the end, knowing she would want to take him home, and he agreed. However he was so full of excitment about the excursion that he blurted it out first thing, and we had the expected results from her. However, Bernie talked her out of it, and we finished the week in good stead. A good memory of the fun that Scouting can be even when things seem to be going bad.

    • Why would you, as a trusted adult, EVER tell a child there was something he should NOT share with a parent?!? That kind of verbage is a warning sign to children of an unsafe adult.

      • The point was this: tell the mom all about camp, after it was over. And it was good advice, not an order.

    • Why would an adult leader ever tell a child not to share something with a parent. This is rule number one that I’ve taught my son….. any adult that asks you to “hide” something from your parent, it’s a red flag. That’s also what individuals that are grooming children do. This is disturbing. “A Scout is trustworthy.” Hiding information is not trustworthy.

  3. I work at aCub Scout Camp, and we call this “revisitus” ( rev i sigh tus) that way we can cure it. Calling it homesickness validates that going home is the cure. We use friendship bracelets as anti-rev bands as well.

  4. @D.K.Spencer – Do not EVER tell a child to keep a secret from his parent. She may be a helicopter mom, but that is her right. Telling a boy to keep a secret from his parents is a sign of grooming a child for abuse and even though your intentions in this case may be positive, the actions you took are not acceptable.

      • I completely agree! No adult should ever tell I child not to tell their parents. If you have something that a child. Am not share that is the first sign you should not be doing it.

  5. I am usually the “homesick” adult that the other leaders turn to when the boys wake up at 2 AM on Monday night. We NEVER call home for the boy. I find that if I sit with them and talk to them, ask them questions about home, siblings, relate stories of my childhood, funny things I have done, etc. It usually takes about 15-20 minutes and I always tell them they can come and get me if they need me. Works like a charm everytime.

  6. I get the realization that the “no technology” policies can be a disservice to advancing Scouting in a modern world. The Jambo wifi – with the highest data usage being between 9 and midnight – you want kids facebooking/tweeting/instagramming their experiences. It’s a means to stay relevant in today’s world. If you ask a kid if they have a camera, they’ll show you their phone. These are the realities of today’s world.

    But I also fear kids in crisis having the ability to take it straight home! I can imagine what it would have been like for last years homesick kids to have that kind of access. And the same “helicopter”, over-protective parent would be the ones to make sure they have that kind of access.

    I send out emails to parents with some of the tips advised here, and from other articles I read. To let them know what WE plan on doing, and what they can do to mitigate homesickness. It may happen anyway, but at least it sets the expectation of how we’re going to handle it.

    So I don’t feel I can say NO phones – it punishes the older kids. We know they’re there whether we say so or not – but as long as we don’t see them, and we’re not responsible for them, and it doesn’t impact a scout’s day/participation, I’m good with it. And luckily, it’s the older scouts, and not so much the younger, more prone to homesickness that have phones.

    • A phone is now everything for a Scout besides a phone: Flashlight, Note Taker, Star Chart, Dutch Oven Temperature Gauge to determine charcoal briquets, etc.

      What we have to teach the Scouts is that the phone is a tool to be used wisely. We want them to use it when needed, but not as a crutch to keep them entertain instead of interacting with other people in person AND especially not something so the Scout can go into their tent to play video games by themselves away from each other.

      A troop needs to find a happy medium in their electronic policy between “no electronic devices allowed” and “use all the time.”

  7. Take your Pack out on regular overnight camp outs each quarter. Not everyone will be able to attend every outing, but over time the CULTURE of your Pack will embrace camp outs. Let Scouts (some Akelas too!) bring a favorite pillow, blanket or stuffed animal – it will ease the pain of separation from home.

    Bears & WEBALOS (Wolves rising to Bears) can be stretched out to 2 night outings with the Pack or sometimes as Spring “invites” from the local Troops whose Den Chiefs (in our Pack) are pretty good at judging when Cub Scouts are ready for the added responsibilities + benefits of several days away.

    By the time we hit Summer Resident camps (4 days/3 nights). Almost all of the Scouts in our Pack have had at least 2+ Camp Outings under their belt. Exception are rising Tigers whom are now allowed to go to Summertime Resident Camp, but have not yet done any time with our Pack during the School Year. The past year we hit the ADVANCEMENT TRAIL at Resident Camp hard & the Scouts were so intent on segments, archery, whittling chips, shooting BB guns, belt loops, dutch oven cooking, pins, knots, swimming, Scout craft, boating and winning the Chief Joe Race (took 2nd) that they didn’t ask me about calling home once.

    Last summer it was put to the test – my son & several of his friends (all in same Den) were all old enough. Went to a YMCA camp and had a blast – taking care of themselves and each other – without a Cubmaster, Den Leader, Camping Chair or Akelas there.

  8. Good article. I spent 8 years on camp staff it amazed me how often kids would be homesick or not feel well when they simply just needed to use the restroom.

    I bet 50% of the kids that showed up at the Med Building in the evening where remedied with being allowed to use the flush toilet as they where not accustomed and afraid of the latrines.

  9. We ask the Scout “When did it start” From 1 to 10 how bad is it. If the Scout says 9, will ask another Scouter near by. “Do we have any Number 9 home sickness punch”? The Scouter will then leave the area, to see if we any. He will come back with the Number 9 home sickness punch. (Sweet Drink)
    The Scout drinks it. Will relate to the Scout are experiences as Scouts, and the level of our own home sickness. All the while we talk about the fun things we did, and how happy we were that we stayed. We ask the Scout if the punch is working yet…. If he says no we give him some more punch. Giving the Scout the (special time) for him to tell us his concerns seems to help more than anything else. As soon as he finds out we relate to way he feels….they get better. Will tell the scout to go back to his patrol…. If gets worse … come back will try to find some 10 home sick punch…. It works!

    • I like this idea. Need new bags of tricks now that Scouts get access to cell phones one way or the other. Now, is there a Homesickness Punch 9 for Scouters!?

  10. As a veteran Scoutmaster of over 20 years of summer camp, it was my observation to place one of the older scouts who had the worse homesickness as a Tenderfoot in charge of the Homesickness Chaplain leadership position. Instantly stepping up to the role, these older leaders took pride in the ones they could saved. Good luck!

    • Great idea! The illustrious headmaster of a boarding school for boys 5th-8th grades pointed out one of his older students to visitors as “our professor of homesickness.” Perhaps because he had been through it all himself, he was really gifted at helping any schoolmates who had the problem.

      Don’t you think homesickness is a little like sea-sickness? It’s miserable while it lasts, but once you have survived it, you can go anywhere and the world is your oyster. As a college faculty member, it is disappointing to see how the campus empties out every weekend these days. Students head home in droves regularly, missing many valuable experiences available with a little more commitment to campus life. Because I attended a college in town, it would have saved my parents a lot of money if I just lived at home, but thank heaven they were too smart and caring for that. When they unloaded me at my dorm all of half a mile away, their parting words were, “Don’t come back until Thanksgiving!” And I didn’t. Adapting to campus life was challenging in some ways, but I don’t recall ever being homesick, because I’d gone through it at age 12.

    • We usually have one member of Sr Patrol sleep by himself. If a New Scout is homesick moving him into the tent with the older Scout usually works well. The special attention does the trick; also helps the adults get uninterrupted sleep during the night.

      • This can get a bit tricky with the YPT rule that states Scouts cannot share a tent if they are more than two years apart in age. Our SPL is 16, there is not one new (those most prone to homesicknesses) Scout in our Troop who would be allowed to sleep in his tent. To make this work, maybe have two designated Scouts, one younger, one older. That way they could minister to all the scouts, while being safe.

  11. My brother works at a summer camp and if they have any homesick boys they send them off to “find a paperclip”. The staffer tells the boy to go ask another staffer for a paperclip. That staffer instead buys them ice cream and sits and talks with the boy to make him less homesick.

  12. Wednesday night after the family night, with my parents, I was so homesick I was crying and begging my parents to let me come home. The Scoutmaster joined the conversation and calmly stated that if I went home, I would not be allowed back with the Troop at summer camp again. I bit my lip and got a look from my parents that they supported the the SM statement. I finished out the week and boldly told my father on Saturday that I did not want to go home. All the adults knew this, it was a lesson in fortitude and sticking it out and completing the task.

  13. During my 20+ tour as Scoutmaster I was hearthed how the older scoutset the challenged to help anyone homesick. Often times the senior help were the most helpful were at one time the most homesick as a scout.
    It was easy to cure adult homesickness, just send them home overnight.

  14. So, what advice do you have for an emotional Mommy whose eldest is away at camp for the first time without me? I was den leader.

  15. Don’t send a care package. One year, we got a bag on day 3 of camp that was as big as a large Scout. Lots of small wrappers, little scout gets a ton of love from home…it’s like cell phones.

  16. When I was Scoutmaster, we started the psychology at our shakedown for summer camp. I told the scouts with their parents listening that there is no such thing as homesickness. What there is are scouts who are not sitting on the latrine, eating all the candy they want and not drinking enough water. Most of them as Webelos had been on two-night campouts and managed to avoid doing a number 2 for the duration. Turns out most of our ‘homesickness’ occurred on night 3. Being 11 years old, they felt ill from not taking care of themselves but had nothing but the most salient change for them, not sleeping at home with their family all around them to attribute the problem. Giving the youth an alternative (and more likely) explanation for how they feel, reduced our homesickness rate greatly. Then, we don’t mention the ‘H’ word the week of camp at all. We don’t want to remind them that such a thing exists because of suggestibility.

  17. I have successfully integrated electronics into our scouting program…the number one reason to do it, if you ignore electronics (cell phones) in scouting there is a greater likelihood that scouts will ignore the Scout Oath and Law when using them.
    To the point of the homesick kid and a cell phone, many of the comments about preparing the scout are on point. I’ve found that allowing phone usage is successful when the parent is prepare as well. I’ve been coaching the parents of those kids most likely to be homesick on how to handle the phone call from their scout. Asking what they did that day, reinforcing how proud they are of them, and ensuring the discussion about the parent not coming up to take them home happens before camp, and on the phone when asked. I’ve had several kids over the past four years appear to be homesick, want to go home, only to make it through camp because the parent was prepared to be positive, reinforce the pride they have in their scout and committed ahead of time to not come up to camp and get their scout.
    Let’s face it, kids use the devices all the time, we need to be a part of the positive rienforcement of the proper use of electronics rather than exclude them from scouting and hope the scout makes his own connection to the scout oath and law when using gen.

  18. I found that one of the first things a scout did as he advanced into homesickness was to stop eating, so I assigned the patrol leader to watch the new scouts at meals and report to me (camp leader) which scouts were not eating. From there on it became mytask, as I had no wish to inflict the job on a scout, my task to sit next to the scout at meals and insist that he eat. Generally there was resistance for two meals then the homesickness disappeared and the scout went on to enjoy his stay at camp.
    Draconian? Perhaps. But the scout did not remember being required to eat whild he did remember a fun camp.

  19. Pairing a homesick boy with an older boy to share a tent helps. No calls home or pick ups allowed or talked about around the boys. Sending a letter or post card home helps the boys.

  20. I agree with this article. As a now Eagle Scour who dealt with homesickness between the ages of 13-14. It took me a couple camp experiences to realize that the best way to overcome homesickness is to stay out of your tent and focus on building friendships with your fellow scouts! Engage in activities together! Play games! Socialize! Especially try to recognize times and triggers throughout the day that may cause you to feel especially homesick and distract yourself by hanging with other scouts. By staying out of your tent and avoiding solitude like the plague, the scouts will have a great experience. (Also, definitely don’t allow phones or pick ups. It was very hard for me at times but had I gone home I would never have earned my Eagle. Overcoming my fear and anxiety was life changing and so beneficial.)

  21. Great article Linda! I was scoutmaster of our troop for five great years. My first year we had multiple cases of home sickness with some being severe. The other adult leaders were great. Camp counselors were fantastic. All the boys made it to the end of camp!

    The best point of the week was when one of the boys with the most severe case of home sickness came up to me Wednesday after lunch, looked at me and said, “Ya know Mr. Shea, I am glad I stayed.” I looked at him with pride and said, “I am glad you stayed as well.”

    The point made about no phone call may seem harsh at first reading but statistics show that youth that call home usually don’t last to the end of camp. The scout I mentioned earlier PLEADED with us early in the week to allow a phone call. By Wednesday afternoon and thru the end of camp there were no more requests to make a call and he had a blast.

    There are a number of points in this article that will help adult leaders and the troop make it thru cases of home sickness for a great week at camp!!

  22. Whether on a weekend camping trip or at Summer camp, it doesn’t take long to recognize a Scout who is homesick, and I like other Scout Leaders have seen my share.
    To combat “homesickness”, I got a Pharmacist friend to prepare a medicine container with the prescription label reading, “ Take 1 tablet forHomesickness”. A Scout with the symptoms was told that this medicine would cure his homesickness, he could only take 1 tablet, but if he wasn’t homesick, it would have the reverse effect and he would be really sick like he had never been before. Never had a Scout homesick more than a couple of hours at most. The pills in the container-Red Tic-Tacs.
    We were at a Summer Camp our West and a Scout in the Troop next to our camp had the worst case of homesickness; cried for two days until one our our leaders mentioned to his SM that we had the cure. solved his homesick problem with 1 Tic Tack. As we were leaving that camp for the trip home, that Scout approached us for another of those pills because he was going from camp to his grandparents and he wanted one just in case.

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