The Sad Letter...Why You Might Be Happy to Get One

As parents (and, perhaps, former campers ourselves), we have so many expectations for our own child’s camp experience. Thus, if we receive a sad letter from our child while he or she is at camp…we are truly disappointed.

Our first instinct is to call camp and make sure everything is alright (visions of our son or daughter sobbing alone under a tree are not uncommon). This, in most cases, results in a calming conversation with either Mike or Ariella or Elizabeth, or our child’s counselor or ridge leader.

Many children, and plenty of adults, suffer from some degree of homesickness while they are away from home. How we, as parents, deal with the occasional “sad” letter speaks volumes to our child about how much we believe in their ability to deal with adversity. That said, it is INCREDIBLY hard for us as parents to stand back and allow our child to develop his or her own resilience…especially when WE were the one who put them in this position in the first place.

A letter from a first session parent accurately describes this emotional dichotomy in an incredibly healthy way. By communicating her concern, providing specific information, and asking for the necessary reassurance from camp, this mother was able to get past the “sad” letter and get solid information about the health and well being of her daughter without directly impacting the daughter’s camp experience.

I have received two letters from my daughter so far. One of the best things she wrote was that she and one of her cabinmates were laughing so hard so couldn’t breathe. I can imagine her having SO much fun! In the second letter though, she expressed some homesickness. I am sure you guys deal with this every day but I just wanted to pass it along so you can share it with her counselors. She can often hold her feelings inside and no one would even know she might feel sad.

In her letter she wrote, “I miss you SO much. It hurts so bad. I want you to come visit and I need you. Please come!” Of course as a mother, I want to step in and give her a big hug and make her feel better. So perhaps, you can give me some guidance. I cannot drop everything and come visit, and I am guessing that would not be a wise solution. Maybe she is doing fine and just wrote at a moment of sadness.

I am not sure if you ever allow kids to phone their parents or if that would help. Please pass this along to her counselors and any advice you have for me would be greatly appreciated.

On the whole, phone calls home are even harder than sad letters for both the campers and their parents. It is not unusual, if a child does call, for there to be much sobbing and begging…only to be followed by that child joyously running out of the lodge with an enormous grin on her face ready to go on her river trip….and a very distraught mom or dad on the other end of the phone.

We encourage parents who may be concerned about possible homesickness to avoid making promises like, “If you can’t make it the full term, I’ll come pick you up whenever you want.” This sets the camper up for failure because he or she will have a hard time seeking personal strength and seeing their own positive growth if the camper knows he/she has an easy way out.

As youth development professionals and parents ourselves, when our campers are homesick it hurts us as much as it hurts you. We have trained ourselves and our staff in effective homesick management techniques, and our directors and senior staff are constantly supporting the staff with the implementation of those techniques.

The insight shared when our first session mother said, “Maybe she is doing fine and just wrote at a moment of sadness…” is outstanding. We all have our “moments,” and we all turn to those we love and trust most during our challenging times. So think of the “sad” letter as a gift—the recognition from your child that you ARE the safe haven and pillar of strength they need…even in spirit…to help them get through this challenge and grow stronger on their own.

In the end, we received a short follow up from our homesick camper’s mom, “She had a BLAST at Sanborn!!! She is ready to go back next year. Thanks again for everything, you all are awesome!”

…and being ready to come back to camp next year?…THAT is the best (and only) cure for “campsickness” around.

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Ariella Rogge
About Ariella Rogge

Ariella started her career at Sanborn when she was twelve. After five years of camper and five years of Sanborn staff experience, she continued her work with kids in the high school classroom. Ariella and her family returned to Sanborn in 2001 to take on the Program Director role which she held til 2012. She lists mountain golf, Gymkhana, climbing mountains and making Pad Thai in the backcountry as some of her favorite activities at camp. Ariella received a B.A. in English from Colorado College and is a certified secondary English educator and WEMT.