(BPT) – When it comes to summer camp, kids are literally in for a treat. (Just think about those gooey s’mores!) Whether overnight or day camp, the experience offers kids a chance to make friends, learn new skills, become more independent, enjoy the outdoors and have fun!
But as exciting as this may be, spending time apart from family, or even having new experiences, can make kids nervous.
Help your kids navigate their nerves before they hit the trail — and have an unforgettable time once they get to camp — by following these tips from Sumru Bilge-Johnson, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Akron Children’s Hospital and a mother herself.
1. Don’t tell them they have nothing to worry about.
Whether it’s her first year or she’s gone before, leaving home can be scary.
Do: Ask if your child has any worries about camp and try to “normalize” her anxiety. Tell her it’s OK to be nervous, but she shouldn’t let it stop her from participating. Give some ideas about how to solve problems (e.g., if you need help, talk to a camp counselor). Who knows, she might discover she enjoys something she didn’t expect, such as making new friends and trying new fun activities.
2. Don’t avoid talking about camp.
Remind your child about all the fun activities he’s going to do at camp, and if you or your other children have previous camp histories, share the fun ones. These will help him look forward to the experience.
Do: Get specific. Try to match the characteristics of your child with the camp you choose (at least make sure they have some in common). Whether he’s interested in archery, sailing or other activities, offer your child encouragement about the positive experiences. You might even review the camp websites together.
3. Don’t forget to send a piece of home with them.
At some point during camp, your child is likely to get a little homesick. During those times it’ll help if she has a reminder of home.
Do: Have her pack a few mementos from home to take to camp, like a family photo or a stuffed animal.
4. Don’t send endless texts.
Your child is going away to camp and that might even be scary for you. It may be tempting to let him call/text whenever he’s feeling homesick, but that can encourage, rather than discourage, his homesickness.
Do: Encourage him to talk to someone at camp, like a counselor or a friend, if he’s feeling homesick. It will help him feel better, and a counselor may have ideas to help ease his worries too. (After all, he won’t be the only camper who gets homesick.)
5. Don’t forget to practice.
Think of ways you can help your child practice going away to camp before the big day.
Do: Consider having her spend the night at a friend’s or a weekend at a relative’s before the start of camp. These shorter trips will give her an idea of what to expect when she goes away to camp.