As the school year wraps up and the lazy days of summer approach, many families are thinking about the next item on their agenda: Summer camp. Whether it is overnight or day camp, anxiety and concern may be creeping in … and the kids are nervous too.
While camp applications were filled out weeks ago, parents may be wondering if their kids are now truly ready. Children heading off to sleep-away camp may be concerned about missing their family or making new friends. Kids who will be attending day camp may worry about being in a new environment with new teachers or counselors.
Not to worry, many parents and children go through this transition each year. They not only survive camp but enjoy wonderful experiences and gain friendships that can last a lifetime.
Benefits of Camp
Think of it as a learning experience. The American Camp Association explains that camp “is an opportunity for your child to explore a world bigger than his/her neighborhood and a chance for you and your child to practice "letting go." Letting go allows children to develop autonomy and a stronger sense of self, make new friends, develop new social skills, learn about teamwork, be creative…”
This is true of overnight camp but for day camp as well. Younger children benefit by learning to "let go" for a few hours in a safe environment while developing new friendships and learning social skills and new activities.
Emotionally Preparing Your Child for Camp
How can you emotionally prepare your child for camp? By keeping them "in the loop" and communicating. It is ideal to have your child involved in the decision making of where they will be going to camp. You can also focus on involving them with decisions regarding camp necessities.
Sleep-away campers should be able to pick out their new sleeping bag or footlocker and choose their favorite clothes and books to bring with them. For daycampers, let them pick out a new lunch bag and water bottle just for this special new experience.
It is normal for children to experience some level of homesickness when away at overnight camp but to avoid a big problem we can look at some direct suggestions from Scholastic:
- Arrange for practice time away from home. Spending the weekend at a grandparent's house or a few days with a friend stimulates feelings of independence and gives kids confidence that they can cope with longer separations from home.
- Discuss how letter writing will help the family stay connected. Kids love to receive letters at camp, primarily because it's reassuring to hear that everyone at home — parents, pets, and siblings — is doing fine.
- Use a wall calendar to show the camp's opening and closing days so your child can see that camp does not last forever.
- Send a letter to camp before opening day, so your child gets mail right away. If you like, send your first letter directly to your child's cabin leader for early delivery.
- Discuss any recent stressful family events and provide reassurance to help vanquish the preoccupying thoughts of home that drive homesickness.
Anxiety about day camp is normal too. The most important thing is to talk to your children and address all of their concerns and questions. Keep your kids in the loop with issues such as drop-off procedures for day camp if it is very different from what they are used to.
Will I make new friends? What if I miss you, Mom? Just as you do with anything new, address your kids' concerns in a positive manner. Tell them, you can do it and maybe relay a positive experience from your own childhood.
Remind your kids, whether they attend day camp or overnight, you need to be realistic. There are ups and downs with any experience in life. Nothing is going to be perfect and there should be no pressure to perform or to do everything "right".
Parents: Are You Ready?
As a parent, are you having your share of anxiety? Bob Ditter, M.Ed., LCSW for PBS Parents advises parents to, “think of camp as "life experience with training wheels." Camp professionals have been helping kids separate and become more independent for years...They tell you they teach swimming or arts and crafts or canoeing, but what they really teach is self-reliance and resilience--in other words, coping skills for kids!”
To ease parental anxiety, Ditter goes on to say,“reassure yourself, as a parent….Trust the job you have done [with your child]. Let him try out his wings, even if it means he takes a little nosedive once in a while! You can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs!”
While off from school, leaving room for some relaxation is important but it can be a long summer with no activities planned for your kids. Summer camps of all kinds are a wonderful option and can be a rewarding experience for children and their parents.
For further information on preparing for summer camp, please see the links below:
Chatham and Madison Moms - We always want to know what you think. Are you feeling anxious about your kids going to camp? Where can you sign up your kids for camp last minute? How do you prepare for summer camp? We want to hear from you.