6 Summer Camp Worries
Whether day camp or an overnight camp experience, get your child ready for summer camp by dealing with these common concerns.
Heading off to summer camp is a wonderful -- and big -- milestone for a child. It's an opportunity for children to grow their cognitive thinking, problem solving abilities and curiosity, while still being kids.
But summer camp can be a huge change for a child, and with change comes uncertainty. Even when a child is excited about attending camp, "anxiety is normal," says Tom Holland, CEO of the American Camp Association.
Here are expert tips on addressing kids concerns about camp:
Am I Really, Really Ready?
Is your son worried that he's not ready for camp yet? Michael Thompson, author of "Homesick and Happy," says that most children are ready to head off to camp between the ages of 8 and 11, but that's far from the only criteria.
Consider a few factors when deciding if it's time for their children to spend a couple weeks or a couple months, away from home. The first factor is the temperament of your child; is she a bold, exploratory child, or a cautious, somewhat anxious child? "The former can go when she's younger and stay for a longer period of time; the latter may want to wait and go for a shorter experimental session," he shares.
Talk to your little one about all the reasons why he's prepared. Maybe start him off with day camp rather than sleepaway to ease him into the experience.
Will the First Day Be Scary?
Think of camp as the first day of school. No matter how thrilled your son and daughter will be for camp, they'll naturally have some concerns. And most of those concerns will revolve around worries about making new friends, what they'll do at camp and who will take care of them while they're there.
To squash those worries, look over the welcome packet and brochure together. Then, once it's time to get ready for camp, involve your children in packing so they're comfortable with what they're bringing. "The more involved your child is in the preparation process, the more excited they will be about their upcoming camp experience," Holland says.
Will I Make Friends?
Finding friends is a common new camper worry. If your child has never been to this camp before, the unknown can be intimidating. Tell your child that "camp is all about making friends," suggests Bette Bussel, executive director of the American Camp Association, New England. Share her suggestions for making friends at camp:
- Introduce yourself to group-mates or bunkmates if this is an overnight camp. Smile and say hello.
- Ask questions like: where do you live? Do you have brothers or sisters? Do you like sports? Is this your first time at camp? Where do you go to school?
- Help other campers and take part in all the activities -- these are great ways to meet people.
- Find out what other campers have in common with you. Talk about your favorite sports team, TV show or candy.
- Talk to your counselors, as they can help if you're having trouble making friends.
What If I Get Homesick?
Homesickness is a universal feeling, especially if going overnight. "It means they have a home worth missing," Thompson says. But it usually passes quickly, and it's rare that homesickness will require a child to return home. If at day camp, put a note or favorite item from home in his backpack. And if going overnight, "Send a letter to camp before your child gets there, so they can receive one right away," suggests Bussel. Just "Never say, "If you feel homesick, I'll pick you up," says Marla Coleman, of the Camp Owners and Directors Association. "Pick-up deals become mental crutches and self-fulfilling prophecies for children."
Can I Call You Whenever I Want?
Phone calls home depends on the camp. "Find out the camp policies and talk with your kids about them before leaving for camp," says Bussel. "Some camps allow incoming emails, while others don't; some camps allow calls to parents but many do not."
Tell your daughter that she'll be so busy at camp and having so much fun, that she might not even think about calling home. But she can write to your family everyday if she wants to and they can write to her. And encourage her to talk to her counselors if she needs something.
What if I Do Something Wrong?
Camp can feel like a whole different world to kids. They are new people, new places and new rules and expectations. It can be overwhelming.
"Know camp rules in advance," suggests Coleman. Discuss them with your child and practice them. "This helps build good citizens and also helps them adapt to the camp culture -- which is rooted in building independence and good decision-making."
Once you've conquered your child's fears, you may realize you have worries of your own about camp, but rest assured: A summer camp is a wonderful place for your children to make memories while you have a chance to rest and recharge.
If you need help easing your own worries, talk to the camp director. They're there to make the summer-camp experience great for your kids, as well as you.
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Elizabeth SanFilippo is a freelance writer in Chicago, Ill. Her work can be found here.