How Parents Deal With Stress When Their Child Is Miserable At Camp

Is your child miserable at summer camp? Do you need tips on how to cope with their misery? Here’s how parents can handle the stress.

by Lori Gurtman | Lori Gurtman lives in Aspen, Colorado with her husband, two teenage children, and Old English Sheepdog. Reading and writing are her favorite escape, but when she isn’t doing that, she can be found on the mountain: hiking, biking, or skiing. Lori is also a published author, freelance writer, certified proofreader, and college essay tutor—who is passionate about empowering her students to write from their hearts. Follow her on Twitter @lorigurtman.

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When I was seven, my mom sent me to overnight camp for the entire summer. Looking back, although I was homesick at times, I loved my experience and made long-lasting friendships and beautiful memories. 

When my children were old enough, I wanted them to attend overnight camp so they could enjoy all the fantastic benefits that I did. Sending them to a sleep-a-way camp meant they could unplug from technology, become independent, connect to nature, participate in varied activities, and bond with other campers. 

The camp my kids attended allowed scheduled phone calls home once a week. On the day of the phone call, my heart raced in anticipation, anxious to hear how they were doing. 

3 children sitting on a picnic blanket while at a summer camp
Photo by RODNAE Productions on

The minute the call came in, I swallowed the lump in my throat––thrilled to hear from them yet desperate to hug them––when their high-pitched voices called out, “Hi, Mommy,” on the other end of the line. Sometimes the calls went well, and talking was a mile a minute. They would tell me about their new friends, fun activities, favorite counselors, etc. After those cheerful conversations, I felt lighter knowing they were happy, and getting the most out of their time away from me. 

At age thirteen, something wasn’t right during my daughter’s fifth summer at camp. Her low, cracked voice responded to my inquisition with one-word answers on the phone. When I asked her if everything was okay, she told me she missed me and wanted to come home. Since other campers and counselors were standing nearby while we spoke, it was difficult for her to be forthcoming about what was happening. When the call ended, my stomach twisted in knots, and I desperately wanted to drive to camp and console her. 

Instead, I reached out to the camp owners to find out if she was okay and asked if I could have an additional private call with her the following day. For the next twenty-four hours, I played out the worst-case scenarios in my head. 

When I finally spoke to my daughter, she told me she felt excluded in her bunk and that whenever they had to pair up, she was the odd one out. Through tears, she begged me to let her leave camp. I desperately wanted to give in, but the voice of reason inside me told me I shouldn’t. I reminded her that she would be home in a few weeks; to try to make the best of the situation. Unfortunately, my words didn’t help her—or me. 

As much as she was suffering, I was too. Knowing my daughter was struggling, I wasn’t sure how I would survive this dull, achy pain in my heart. 

Having your children away at camp for the summer can be a great gift—not just for the kids but also for the parents. It’s time off from carpools, snacks, meals, hiring babysitters, whining, cleaning, nagging, etc. Both single and married parents have an opportunity to make the most of their temporary freedom. 

Without the daily grind of parenting, my husband and I relished the time alone. We got a delicious taste of the life and the romance we had before having children. And it was beautiful until it wasn’t. 

I wanted to enjoy the rest of my summer—sans kids, but I found it challenging. My daughter’s unhappiness hung over me like a dark cloud. 

Our emotions are intricately tied to our children’s. When they’re doing well, we’re doing well. When they’re in a negative head space, it may put us in one, too. But, I soon realized that, perhaps, there was a lesson in all of this that I had to learn. So, rather than ruining my last few weeks of independence, I decided to take charge of my mental state and try to alleviate the pit in my stomach.

First, I thought about what my daughter was going through. There was no denying that she was feeling homesick, sad, and alone, but thankfully this was a temporary situation. Soon enough, she would return home, surrounded by her family and friends.  

I also had to remind myself that spending the rest of the summer worrying about her was futile and wouldn’t solve anything. So, each time a fear-based thought popped in my head, I didn’t fight it; I let it pass.  

At age thirteen, she was old enough to try and figure out how to rise above her low emotional state without my interference. 

The next thing I did was give myself an affirmation, a statement I trained myself to believe was true. I repeated it to myself all day long: She’s doing great, and everything is going to work out for her highest good. Of course, saying these statements thousands of times didn’t immediately cure my angst, but as time went on, the more I said it, the more I started to believe it. Eventually, when I least expected it, my despondency dissipated—and I felt better, at peace. 

Then, something magical happened. A week later, on my next call with my daughter, she told me she found a new friend she liked in the adjacent bunk. Smiling, I listened to the joy spilling over in her voice.

Rational self-talk and repeating affirmation may not always have the same positive outcome I experienced. Still, these powerful tools can help whenever you’re upset, whether it’s a kid-related issue or something else.  

So the next time you feel down about a problem that’s out of your control, take a step back from what’s happening. Reason with yourself about the best way to handle it. Then create an affirmation that will replace your negative thinking, help release your fear, and ultimately boost your mood.

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