Getting Your Child Ready for Sleep Away Camp
With the camp season starting at the end of this month, doing the right things now will help prepare your child for a successful camp experience. The first and easiest thing to do is make sure that you’re ready to send along all the necessary clothing and equipment recommended by the camp. Campers feel uneasy when they get to camp and they don’t have “what everybody else has.” So, be sure you’ve sent the right stuff.
Second, write a few letters to your child and mail them to camp a few days before they leave. There’s nothing like getting mail (and it doesn’t need to have anything other than warm words from home). Where possible, encourage friends and other family members to do the same.
Most important, get your child ready emotionally. Some anxiety should be expected in any child who is going away from home for the first time. At least two emotions are at play: first, the natural trepidation about leaving one’s parents; and, secondly, the normal anxiety about starting something new and different. You need to encourage your child on both scores.
As a loving parent, parting with your child is tough in and of itself. Don’t transfer your own doubts, fears and insecurities to your child. Comments that overplay how much you will miss him or her (or be “lost” without him/her this summer) will only serve to make your child feel guilty about going away. Telling your child about that great trip you’ll be taking (perhaps with a younger sibling who is staying home) while he/she is away will only accentuate the feeling of “missing out” on something while at camp. Be reassuring without overly minimizing your child’s possible and natural feelings of homesickness. Point out that the anxiety is a normal process and that lots of kids feel the same things. If your child seems anxious, ask what he or she is feeling. Listen and avoid projecting too many of your own feelings and experiences. Sometimes just having a parent listening makes a child feel better.
Regarding the anxiety that may go with starting something new, advise your child to be patient and be encouraging. Remind your child that he or she has made new friends before. Let your child know who to go to if they have any difficulties in camp. Speak to the camp director yourself to make sure you know who that “go to” person is for your child. Camp builds self-confidence, but every child can use an extra dose of it from home in preparation for going to camp.
Sleep-away camp is a great experience for a child. It builds lasting memories in a fun and safe place where friendships are made and self-esteem is enhanced. Like any growing experience, there are challenges along the way. But caring camp professionals are there to help you and your child get the most out of the summer camp experience.
Jay S. Jacobs