Preparing for Summer Camp

By Tracy Chappell

You’ve chosen the camp, paid the fees, made all the preparations, so now your child is ready for camp, right? Not quite. Preparing your child emotionally for the camp experience is just as vital as packing sunscreen, so follow these guidelines to ease the anxiety.

Communicate About Camp

  • Talk about camp in your casual conversations, rather than thrusting the topic on your child in a serious “talk” before s/he leaves. Kids will feel more comfortable raising concerns, asking questions and wondering aloud, if they are used to discussing camp in an easygoing manner.
  • Always convey your confidence in your child that s/he will be more than capable of handling being away from home and that they will make the right decisions. Your confidence can only help to bolster theirs.
  • There’s a huge difference between being optimistic, and trivializing your child’s feelings. Brush-off phrases like “You’ll be fine once you get there” and “Don’t worry” aren’t helpful to a child who’s feeling anxious about camp. Listen and address all of your child’s concerns and questions, no matter how insignificant they seem to you.
  • Be sure your child has a realistic view of what’s planned and what will be expected of them at camp. Discuss details like sleeping arrangements, chores, daily agendas, etc., so they’ll know what to expect.

Get Comfortable

  • Visit the camp ahead of time. If you can’t get there, many camps have web sites with photos and comments, which will give your child an idea of what the camp is like.
  • How comfortable will your child be if he has to find the washroom in the middle of the night? What should he do when he’s expected to join activities that he doesn’t enjoy? If someone who’s on dish duty with him doesn’t pull her weight, how will he react? Create hypothetical situations to get your child thinking about things he might not have considered, then discuss different ways to approach them.
  • Camp is a great opportunity for both you and your child to practice letting go, which isn’t easy. If your child has rarely spent a night away from you, plenty of overnight visits at different people’s homes are essential in making him comfortable with the experience. It’s a good idea to gradually extend these overnight trips into two-night weekend visits.
  • Give your child a tangible sense of time. Try to remember a trip you’ve taken or an event that has a similar time frame so he can better understand how long he’ll be away.
  • Be sure your child has the basic skills expected at camp – making the bed, folding his clothes, taking care of his own hygiene, keeping track of his own gear, etc.

Keeping in touch

  • Send a letter or package to the camp ahead of time, so your child has something waiting for her from home when she gets there. Include things like puzzles, game books, pictures, comics and magazines in your packages.
  • Know and respect the camp’s policies on phone calls home. Find out how often phone calls are permitted and decide ahead of time on how, when, or if you’ll call each other.
  • Plan to write letters back and forth, and be consistent. When you write, be upbeat and ask specific questions, so your child will find it easy to write back. Though you want to keep them updated, do your best not to go into too much detail about fun things they are “missing out” on, or go overboard in letting them know how much you miss them, which could backfire into making them homesick.

Homesick?

  • Homesickness is common among campers, even if it only lasts for short periods of time. However, avoid telling your child in advance that he can come home early if he wants to; having an easy way out makes kids less likely to try to adjust.
  • It’s common to get a first phone call from your child, desperate to come home. Be reassuring that getting used to camp takes time, and try to think of previous examples of things your child has learned to enjoy over time.
  • Camp staff is trained to both recognize and deal with the symptoms of homesickness. Encourage your child to speak up to counselors if s/he is encountering difficulties of any kind.
  • If your child is really not enjoying himself, decide how long you’ll let him try to settle in before determining that things won’t get better. Remember, homesickness is often more rampant among parents than campers! Talk to a camp counselor (who will be better equipped to assess your child’s status) before giving your child the option of coming home. Of course, if your child has stopped eating or sleeping, there is no question that he should be removed from camp immediately.

Roberta Lester-Britton and Sarah Press specialize in attending to the emotional needs of children.

Published by

Dr. Gnap

Dr. Gnap is a family practice physician and behavioral medicine specialist in suburban Chicago.  Dr. Gnap developed the Inner Control™ Program in 1970 and has worked with thousands of people to improve and correct medical, emotional, behavioral and learning problems including performance.  He started the Inner Control program because so many patients asked, “what more can be done along with traditional treatment methods?”

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